If the first presidential debate was a contest to see who could memorize more numbers and offer crisper rhetoric replete with well-rounded sentences and flawless syntax, then Al Gore won. If it was an audition for national nice guy, then George W. Bush strutted out of Boston riding high.

But the truth is that neither man won. The real winner last week couldn’t even get inside the hall, though he had a ticket. We speak, of course, of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, once left for dead in the wake of Gore’s post-convention surge, but now poking his head out of the electoral grave and threatening to make some sort of splash on Election Day, at least in a couple of states.

In the tracking survey conducted by respected (and often dead-on accurate) pollster John Zogby, Nader surged back to 7 percent on the heels of his major league dissing by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Said Zogby of Nader’s reemergence: “He is up to 17 percent among Independents and 18 percent among Progressives. If he continues the same trend, he will have an impact on several of the battleground states.”

Nader continues to pose the biggest threat to Gore in Oregon and Washington, two states with a combined 18 electoral votes that remain on Bush’s radar screen. Nader also clocked in at 11 percent in Connecticut in a recent Qunnipiac College poll and could hurt Gore in the pivotal state of Wisconsin, home to 11 electoral votes and a sizeable green community.

And while a recent Los Angeles Times story declared the green movement firmly behind the vice president, splinter groups such as Environmentalists Against Gore continue to make noise while nagging issues in key states still dog the Democratic nominee.

In New Jersey, for instance, Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action has been pounding the Clinton-Gore administration for months to stop the dredging and dumping of toxic material off the state’s coast. The U.S. EPA late last month decreased the allowable level of PCBs in dumping material, a small victory but not enough to quiet Zipf’s concerns.

And with Nader continuing to pack halls with thousands of vocal supporters, it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a factor on Election Day — that is, if his youthful backers bother to vote, something that even Nader himself acknowledges is far from a certainty.

Of course, all this speculation could be moot if the Green Party standard-bearer comes out at the last minute and urges his supporters to vote for Gore in close states to stave off a Bush victory. That’s the latest rumor floating around the Internet, a tale similar to an email yarn that claimed Dick Cheney was planning to resign the GOP ticket at the last minute by trumping up a bogus health problem to make room for Colin Powell or John McCain.

Nader spokesperson Laura Jones laughed at the idea that Nader would be calling on supporters to back Gore. “That’s not our message,” she said.

Hell on Wheels

University of Virginia professor Pat Michaels is not a favorite among enviros working on global warming. The noted skeptic revels in whacking the science behind climate change theories and arguing that humans aren’t altering the globe’s temperature.

An insightful purchase.

So some green group members were surprised to learn of the professor’s latest major purchase: a brand-spanking-new Honda Insight, an eco-friendly coupe with high gas mileage and low carbon-dioxide emissions. What gives?

“I did not buy the car to save the planet,” Michaels assured us. “I bought it because it’s fun,” he said, calling it “the neatest piece of technology the common man can own.”

Contrary to recent reports that the Insight’s mileage figures are inflated, Michaels, who often commutes from Charlottesville, Va., to Washington, D.C., where he is a scholar at the Cato Institute, said he regularly milks 70 miles per gallon out of his vehicle.

“It turns out that it is a charming car to drive,” he said. “It also mutes an argument that my green friends always make that somehow our government is preventing us from buying efficient technologies. When I went to the dealer in Stanton, Va., there was no roadblock to go through. No one held a gun to my head and said I couldn’t buy it.” And Michaels said the Insight is the only car that does not aggravate his degenerative neck condition.

But that’s not all. Michaels’s new wheels might also help him pick up chicks.

“It doesn’t hurt that in a college town it draws a few stares and that there are more females than males in college these days,” he said.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Speaking of global warming skeptics, the 2000 Republican Party platform has this to say about the Kyoto Protocol: “Its deliberations were not based on the best science; its proposed agreements would be ineffective and unfair inasmuch as they do not apply to the developing world; and the current administration is still trying to implement it, without authority of law. More research is needed to understand both the cause and the impact of global warming.”

Pretty standard fare from the GOP. But the next sentence drew some raised eyebrows: “That is why the Kyoto treaty was repudiated in a lopsided, bipartisan Senate vote.”

That contention has only one small problem. It’s not true. The Senate has never voted on the Kyoto Protocol.

It is true that the august chamber voted 95-0 in favor of a nonbinding resolution that warned the administration against backing a climate change treaty that would exempt developing countries from emission-reduction targets. But that was in July of 1997, five months before the Kyoto treaty had even been written. And the Clinton administration has never submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Perhaps that’s why Theodore Roosevelt IV said in a Muckraker interview at the GOP convention in Philadelphia that he could not defend the Republican platform.