With the seconds ticking away, local Republicans are giving a quiet, unofficial boost to Ralph Nader's star-crossed odyssey to get on the Oregon ballot.

While Republican officials say they are not directly working to aid Nader's independent presidential bid, the head of a local GOP group last week twice circulated Nader petitions at Republican functions, according to witnesses.

With Oregon pegged as a swing state in the November elections, Nader's insurgent campaign has become the focus of all kinds of political shenanigans. Figuring Nader will siphon votes from Democrat John Kerry, conservative groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy called on supporters to attend Nader's special "assembly of electors" in Portland in June.

Initially, the GOP preferred to let proxy groups do the dirty work of campaigning for a guy who opposes everything they hold sacred. But now that the Nader campaign has embarked on a last-ditch effort to collect 15,000 signatures by Aug. 24, some GOP activists just couldn't hold themselves back from a little unofficial politicking--not that they'll admit it.

"No! Not at all!" exclaimed Liz Pearson, chairwoman of the Clackamas County Young Republicans, when asked whether Nader petitions were circulated at the group's meeting last week, held at the Bomber restaurant in Milwaukie. "That was not happening at our meeting, I can guarantee you that."

"Hook me up to a lie detector, honey," she added.

But two people who attended the meeting told WW Pearson herself brought Nader petitions and encouraged folks to sign. "She had a stack of them," said Gail Holmes, president of the Lake Oswego Republican Women's Club. "She asked people if they'd distribute them."

In a subsequent interview, Pearson backtracked, saying she'd learned someone unaffiliated with the group had brought a petition without her knowledge.

Meanwhile, however, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told WW that Pearson had also handed out petitions over the weekend at a Republican rally in Oregon City's Clackamette Park.

Pearson denied circulating petitions at the rally. Asked whether she circulated petitions after the rally, however, she declined to comment.

GOP top brass has tried to distance the party from these faux-Ralphing tactics. "The Young Republicans is a separate organization," says state GOP spokeswoman Dawn Phillips. They have their own charter. They don't take their marching orders from us."