Ah, summertime. The taste of a burger on a backyard grill. The roar of the lawnmower through a chain-link fence. The whiff of hot tar and urine on Southwest Morrison Street.

To tell you the truth, though, the hot weather makes the Nose a little cranky. So he's enjoying the hell out of the catfight shaping up between the Ralph Nader campaign and the Oregon Democrats.

The latest volley came last week, after the Nader folks announced that, once again, they failed to get their presidential candidate on the Oregon ballot. Turns out last month's assembly at Benson High School came up 50 signatures short of the 1,000 required by state law.

The Schnoz was expecting a little humility--after all, the Benson blowout was a pathetic contrast to the glory days of 2000, when 10,000 Naderites paid $7 each to see their man at Memorial Coliseum. But modesty was not on the mind of Portland lawyer Greg Kafoury, Nader's Oregon organizer, who was hotter than Bill O'Reilly at a Greenpeace meeting.

"The dirty tricks of the Democratic Party of Oregon have succeeded," Kafoury seethed. "We were sabotaged."

The reason Nader couldn't round up 1,000 voters (a similar effort failed in April) had nothing to do with memories of hanging chads or the realities of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. Nothing to do with the fact that Nader is as stuck in the politics of the '70s as a salmon fly trapped in amber.

No, the reason, Kafoury said, is that the Democrats are playing dirty. In the days leading up to the assembly, they tied up the campaign's phone lines with a flood of complaints, then sabotaged the event by sending in droves of party faithful, who took up valuable seats in the hall but didn't sign petitions for Nader. (Never mind that Republicans also infiltrated the assembly to sign petitions and lend Nader a helping hand.)

Maybe it was the humidity, but Kafoury seemed particularly unglued about a complaint filed with the Federal Elections Commission by Ellen Lowe, the den mother of Oregon progressives. Lowe accused the Nader folks of breaking elections rules by accepting help from conservative groups but failing to report that assistance as an in-kind contribution. "It's a smear," Kafoury huffed. "It's a knowing lie."

Having twice blown their efforts to nominate Ralph at an assembly, the Naderites are now switching to Plan B--collecting 15,306 signatures by Aug. 24. No easy task, since the Dems know every move on the mat when it comes to challenging signatures.

At the press conference, Kafoury warned the Democrats, "Leave us alone or we'll strike back."

What's great about this dispute is that every day, Nader looks more like a wack job bent on spoiling the chances of John Kerry--and every day, the Democrats look more like bullies who'll stop at nothing to keep Nader off the ballot. By November, the Nose suspects, each side will have become what the other accused it of being all along.

So sit back and enjoy the ride. Nothing like a good fight to chase away those summertime blues--especially if your name is George W. Bush.