By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader accused his Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday of being responsible for a campaign to try and keep him off the Nov. 2 ballot.
Seen by many Democrats as the "spoiler" in the 2000 election that elected Republican George W. Bush as president, Nader's campaign said it was fighting 21 legal cases in 17 states in a bid to get the consumer advocate on the ballot.
Nader pointed the finger at Kerry and Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe for being behind what his campaign says is a program of harassment, intimidation and phony lawsuits that are costing tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
"The ballot access has drained our time and our resources," Nader told a news conference. "I have to hold Sen. John Kerry and Terry McAuliffe directly responsible."
The Kerry campaign did not immediately return phone calls asking for a response.
Nader's campaign played a tape they said was testimony by the head of the Democratic Party in Maine who is heard saying that the Democratic National Committee is paying for her time and expenses related to trying to keep Nader off the ballot.
The Nader campaign said that kind of coordination appeared to be illegal and should be investigated by the Federal Elections Commission.
His campaign said Nader was on the ballot in 29 states.
Nader called the Democrats "gutless, spineless, clueless and hapless" and said their gamble that people would vote for anyone but Bush was misguided and would make them lose the election.
Democrats around the United States have been challenging Nader's presence on the ballot, fearing he will again boost Bush's re-election chances by drawing votes that would otherwise go to Kerry.
Polls indicate the 2004 election may be as close as the one in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled on the Florida recount to hand Bush victory over Democrat Al Gore.
Last week, Florida's Supreme Court ordered Nader could be allowed to compete in the state and a judge also ordered that he be included on the ballot in Colorado.
Judges in New Mexico and Arkansas have denied Nader access to the Nov. 2 ballot, but he did win a spot on the ballot in Maryland.,