Hugh McQuaid Photo

Former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman recalled the role Ralph Nader played in the 2000 presidential election Tuesday when asked about third-party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto.

Lieberman, who shared an unsuccessful ticket with former Vice President Al Gore in 2000, was in Hartford on Tuesday to announce the five recipients of his $1,500 scholarship award.

The former senator took questions from the news media following the event and was asked about Pelto, a former Democratic state lawmaker who is collecting signatures to appear on the ballot as a third-party candidate to challenge Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Lieberman, who lost the Democratic nomination in 2006 but won the general election under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, shrugged off comparisons to Pelto, who has formed the Education and Democracy Party to run against Malloy.

“I didn’t voluntarily choose to run as an independent. I was forced to do so,” Lieberman said. “It’s different. I was unfortunate to lose the primary but I was fortunate that I was an incumbent senator, that I had people who surged to my side at that point because I felt that I was treated unfairly or whatever, so I had money coming in.”

But offering to be “probably more direct than I should,” Lieberman spoke of his experiences in another election. In 2000, he was the running mate to Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate.

Despite earning 540,520 more popular votes, Gore and Lieberman lost the election to former Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.

The loss is often attributed to the candidacy of Connecticut resident and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who appeared on the ballot in many states as a candidate for the Green Party. Florida, where Bush won by less than 600 votes, was one of those states.

“You’re looking at someone who was part of a ticket in 2000 that got a half-million more votes than the other ticket nationally, but because of certain unfortunate events in the state of Florida, did not get to take office. One of the reasons it was so close in Florida, I believe, was because there was a third-party candidate named Ralph Nader,” Lieberman said.

“Arguably, if Ralph hadn’t been in the race, Al Gore and I would have won more clearly in Florida. What I’m saying is, third-party candidates can affect the outcome of elections,” he said.

Some people, including Nader, dispute the assumption that votes cast for third-party candidates would otherwise have gone to a major party candidate. For his part, Lieberman said he has heard analysts argue “quite convincingly” that the majority of Nader’s votes would have otherwise gone to the Gore ticket.

It is not the first time someone has drawn comparisons between Pelto and Nader or suggested the former could spoil this year’s election for Malloy. Polls have suggested that Malloy remains in a dead heat with his Republican rival Tom Foley, whom he defeated by just 6,404 votes in 2010.

However, in a recent appearance on WNPR’s Where We Live, Nader said that kind of argument is something that needs to change about the election system.

“It’s the attitude that’s very widespread, that people who challenge the two-party duopoly or tyranny are ‘spoilers.’ That really is a monstrous mismatch because the real spoilers are the two parties that have spoiled our systems of government . . . I never say to anybody, ‘Do not run, you’re a spoiler,’” Nader told WNPR’s John Dankosky.