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'Nader nation' - who are these voters?

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Jonathan Becker doesn't like his options between the two major-party candidates in a duel for the US presidency. George W. Bush's politics don't reflect his own. And John Kerry, he says, is too hard to pin down. So Mr. Becker will be voting for Ralph Nader.

"He's specifically clear on where he is on the issues," says Becker, a computer-support specialist in New York who names civil rights and Iraq as his own hot-button concerns.

"In an election, you vote for who you want to vote for," he adds. "I'm not into voting a guy out of power just to replace him with an unknown quantity."

By all appearances, Nader supporters like Becker - ready to stay with his candidate to the end - are a rarer breed today than they were four years ago. On April 5, for example, Mr. Nader failed to get enough signatures in his first bid to qualify for the ballot in Oregon, which would have been the first state to list him for the 2004 race.

Nader's prospects for at least making a blip in November - assuming he stays in the race - rest in the hands of a group many experts call relatively small in number, but remarkably broad in terms of the agendas it represents.

Some of Nader's "true believers," as one observer calls them, have an almost nihilistic take on major-party politics. But his supporters also include some conservative Christians, one of whom calls Nader a "puritan patriot [whose] morals require all of us to do more for each other and the public good."Also among core backers: ardent internationalists and elements of the more isolationist Reform Party.

"They don't care about Republican or Democratic politics," says Michael McDonald, professor of public affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "They have a commitment to something they believe in, and they're going to support that."

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