KATE BRENNER/Herald photo

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader told a half-filled Orpheum Theatre Friday he can turn the 2008 campaign into a three-way race if he is allowed into the debates.

Prior to his speech, Nader told reporters his campaign has been blacked out by the mainstream media and the debate organizers.

“By getting to the debates you can get to tens of millions of people,” he said. “In no other way can you do that — the way our system is now rigged with a two-party elected dictatorship and ballot access obstructions.”

Nader was highly critical of both political parties, characterizing them as agents of corporate America. He called for the impeachment of “King George IV” and said the Democrats were also complacent in national policies.

“I’ve never seen a bigger gap between knowledge and action,” Nader said. “It’s an even bigger gap than the inequalities of wealth and income, which have gotten pretty big.”

In his fifth run for president, Nader maintains many of the same platforms he had when he ran as a member of the Green Party. These include a Canadian-style public health insurance system, a minimum wage of at least $10, a carbon tax to help slow global warming and more direct democracy.

Nader and his running mate Matt Gonzalez support the establishment of a date for troop withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.

A large portion of the attendees were University of Wisconsin students, and Nader painted a bleak future for a generation he believes will be worse off economically than its parents.

“You’ve got to wonder about whether you can get affordable housing, affordable health insurance, whether your white-collar skilled job dealing with software is going to be outsourced to China or India,” Nader said. “And then in the moments of anxiety you’re smoking a joint and you can be arrested and thrown in jail.”

Democrats frequently blame Nader for handing the 2000 election to George W. Bush due to the large number of votes the independent candidate received in Florida. But Nader said Democrats rarely mention the 1992 campaign of Texas businessman Ross Perot, who theoretically helped elect Bill Clinton by garnering 19 percent of the vote.

Claire Rydell, chair of the University of Wisconsin College Democrats, said she is disappointed Nader is running again this year.

“I feel that we need to come to terms that it’s a two-party system, as unfortunate as that may be,” Rydell said. “There are probably much more effective ways for him and his supporters to get done what they want done.”

In a four-way national poll against Democratic nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Republican nominee Sen. John McCain and Libertarian nominee Bob Barr, Nader’s support has ranged from 1 percent to 6 percent.

Although Nader and Gonzalez seemed aware a win for them is unlikely if they don’t get in the debates, Gonzalez used his opening speech to try and promote rank choice voting.

Using that system, one could vote for Nader as a first choice, Obama as second and McCain as third, Gonzalez said. If Nader were to receive the fewest number of votes, then the votes would go to Obama.

“This isn’t magic. This isn’t radical even,” Gonzalez said. “This has been used in other countries.”

The Nader-Gonzalez ticket is on the ballot in 45 states and has initiatives or write-in campaigns in the remaining five.