The stoplight officially turned red on Ralph Nader's drive for the Oregon ballot Tuesday as the duct-tape campaign lurched toward the finish line like a sputtering Corvair.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it remained uncertain whether the independent presidential candidate would be able to submit the necessary 15,306 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and it may take weeks before the Oregon secretary of state comes up with an official total. But two things are clear: It's going to be close, and it's going to be ugly.

Organizers turned in almost 15,000 signatures in Multnomah County alone--2,400 of them submitted Monday morning. But the rate of valid signatures has been running only 56 percent, according to Multnomah County elections chief John Kauffman.

"Hold your breath," says local Nader ringleader Greg Kafoury, who spent his past several lunch hours drumming up signatures on the streets of downtown Portland.

Democrats and their allies, meanwhile, are going full bore to keep Nader off the ballot, firing a barrage of complaints at elections officials and mounting a $25,000 campaign to put every Nader signature under the microscope.

A signature gatherer hired by the Nader campaign was spotted scribbling names from a phone book in a stairwell of the Skidmore Fountain Building. Forged signatures include one belonging to a Portland man who died 11 years ago (see the Nose, page 7).

Nader critics complain that overwhelmed elections officials won't be able to catch the invalid signatures. "Nader waited until the eleventh hour," says Margaret Olney, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union. "It just seems extraordinary to me that he'd hold on to so many signatures until the last minute."

Kafoury says it's the other side that's playing dirty. "The Democrats are fighting Nader hook and nail," he says. "It's bullying. They've got all the lawyers, they've got all the money."

Will the Democrats' scorched-earth tactics come back to haunt them by alienating Nader's supporters, perhaps even driving them to--gasp!--vote for Bush? Political analyst Bill Lunch doesn't think so. "The machinations of getting Nader on the ballot fascinate political journalists, political analysts and political junkies," he told WW. But most voters, he says, pay no attention to the infighting. "Whatever you think of the morality of it, in raw political calculus, the Democrats are right on the money."