Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ode to the Lesser Known Candidates

As we near the end of a primary campaign that has lasted since the day Sen. Kerry conceded in Boston in Nov. 2004, the field has winnowed down to three. Of course, we all know that Sens. Obama, Clinton, and McCain have survived the more than 20 other candidates who sought the nomination for the Democrats or Republicans. During this time, we’ve seen the rise and fall of presidential contenders, or perhaps pretenders. In this past year, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee have been cast as prospective “front-runners” in the polls. But for every John Edwards, who garnered much mainstream attention, there’s a Joe Biden or Duncan Hunter that never was able to break through and had to prematurely end their dream of becoming president.

Now, here are five candidates that made a unique, humorous, or notable contribution to the “Race for the White House” in 2008.

· Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): This 1988 Libertarian Party nominee made a return to presidential politics with his quest to win the Republican nomination in 2008. Unbeknownst to most Americans, Paul is still actively seeking the presidency. His website has a headline that reads, “There were 11. Now there are two”, followed by a glowing portrait of the Texas Congressman. Paul is best known for his vociferous supporters, and the ability to raise $35 million without much media attention. It was difficult to cruise the interstate in 2008 without encountering homemade “Ron Paul Revolution” signs. One rather creative Paul supporter introduced the “Ron Paul Blimp”, which could be ridden in or advertised on for as much as $1 million. His dedicated supporters hand-delivered a pamphlet to my home just before the Florida primary. My favorite line was “Ron Paul has been in Congress for 20 years… Ron Paul has delivered over 4000 babies.” And in fact, both statements are true. Paul is a 10-term congressman from Texas’s 14th District, and he holds a PhD and was a practicing physician before entering politics. While he has not won a primary or caucus, his old-style Libertarian philosophy and opposition to the Iraq War was a breath of fresh air for this Democrat. And finally, he may have made the most true statement of this campaign, when he quoted Sinclair Lewis in saying, “When fascism comes it will be wrapped in a flag carrying a cross”.

· Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.): This six-term Senator from Delaware was one of the most qualified candidates in the 2008 race. Biden was well respected for his foreign policy knowledge and credentials. He is currently the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. While that may not mean much to Joe Q. Public, the position is one of great importance. For instance, the Foreign Relations Committee helped originate the purchase of Alaska in the 1960’s, and is responsible for foreign aid and arms sales. But the personal narrative of Sen. Biden’s life is much more interesting. Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, but his joy was short-lived. Biden, a husband and father of three, lost his wife and infant daughter in a car accident just after his election. His two sons were also injured in the accident, and Biden was actually sworn in as a Senator at their bedside in a Wilmington, Delaware hospital. While his campaign did succumb after a poor showing in Iowa, he succinctly summed up the campaign of Rudy Giuliani during a debate. Biden said, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11”.

· Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska): Let’s start with the serious part of Sen. Gravel. During the Watergate era, Gravel was a key opponent of the draft. In a 1971 speech, he filibustered against the draft and was able to force parts of the Pentagon Papers into the Senate record. He was vindicated in the Supreme Court ruling Gravel v. United States, which granted him immunity. Obviously, much of that occurred three decades ago and few people cared, considering his abysmal performance in the primaries. However, he did provide some memorable lines. At the CNN Youtube debate, he self-deprecatingly described himself as a “potted plant”, in reference to the fact that he received less speaking time than the major candidates. Detractors began to liken him to "the cranky uncle who lives in the attic”. Before he was ultimately barred from the debates, he let go this memorable line following responses about possible military action against Iran. “And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me - they frighten me,” said Gravel. Finally, in perhaps the best advertisement of the campaign, Gravel stares at the camera for a minute, and then finally throws a rock into the lake.

· Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-Wis.): Before I get too dismissive, I have to mention that Tommy Thompson was elected as governor of Wisconsin for four terms. He served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Obviously, Thompson is a man of great accomplishment. But his candidacy, unfortunately, fell far short. Thompson spoke with assurance that he would finish 2nd in the much-important Ames Straw poll in Iowa, which was held in Aug 2007. On many television programs, Thompson was confident that he would do well, considering most of the other candidates were not competing in this non-binding exercise. Well, Thompson finished 6th with 7 percent of the vote, losing to Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain. As if he were genuinely surprised, Thompson withdrew. Months later, he made another colossal error in endorsing Rudy “I spent $50 million for one damn delegate” Giuliani. I’ll close with one of Thompson’s memorable remarks. During a speech in front of Jewish Americans, Thompson uttered, “You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that.”

· Alan Keyes (R-???): We’ll end with a man who is likely to end up as a trivia question. On Jeopardy, some day in the near future, we’ll hear Alex Trebek ask, “I lost the Senate election in Illinois to future President Barack Obama.”. If you can answer, “Alan Keyes”, then you win $600 for Presidential politics. In the introduction, I do not list a state for Alan Keyes, since quite frankly I am not sure. Keyes ran for the U.S. Senate from Maryland in 1998 and 2002. But after Jack Ryan, wife of Star Trek star Jeri Ryan imploded in the 2004 Senate race, Keyes was the last-ditch choice to challenge the rising star, Obama, who would go on to become keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. This is only after “Da Bears” coach Mike Ditka declined overtures to enter the massacre, err race. But I digress. Keyes suddenly appeared in the Dec. 2007 PBS Debate in Des Moines. This came as a surprise to even seasoned political veterans, who were astonished that Keyes was still alive, far less running for the highest office in the land. While Keyes has not yet withdrawn from the race, and is now seeking the Constitution Party nomination, I will remember him for the good times he gave us. His Mr. Rogers-like sweatshirt that he wore in his short-lived Alan Keyes is Making Sense program on MSNBC will always give me fond memories of my high school days. And finally, who could ever forget him jumping into a mosh pit on Michael Moore’s Bravo program The Awful Truth. And as a second addendum, after garnering only 27 percent against Barack Obama he suggested ignoring the 17th Amendment and taking away Americans’ rights to direct elections of Senators. Farewell, Alan Keyes, maybe you will come back someday on FOX News after Sean Hannity passes.

Of course, I could not take the time to mention all the other minor candidates and their follies. If I had that time, I would have discussed Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) angering Miami residents by calling their city a “third-world country”. Or I could have talked about how Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) worked hard and insured the endorsement of Terri Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler. Or to be more serious, how Sen. Chris Dodd’s father witnessed the horrific natures of the Holocaust at the Nuremberg trials.

But to end, here is a list of the other candidates who will not be President. While they all deserve attention, none will get the acclaim they deserve.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)
Former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.)


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