More Primary Candidates: An Eclectic Mix

Relatively few candidates achieve "major candidate" status and the attention that goes with that status.  Major candidates have generally held federal or state public office, achieved prominence in their field of endeavor, or are wealthy enough to finance a credible campaign.

In looking at the field of candidates, one must also consider those who choose not to run.[1]  Some of these individuals will issue statements well before campaign activity gets underway indicating that they are not going to run.  Others will wait longer to see how the field develops.  A few will wait until the last minute as was the case in December 1991 with New York Governor Mario Cuomo (D).  For months, the prospect of a Cuomo candidacy had attracted more media attention than some of the declared candidates achieved.  However, less than two hours before the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary, Cuomo held a press conference to announce he would not run due to his state's budget situation.  Even that did not stop Cuomo supporters from forming a draft campaign.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader was also subject of a draft effort in the New Hampshire primary. Supporters advocated him as a "none of the above" write-in candidate.  Nader argued that "a selfish oligarchy has produced an economic decline, the debasement of politics, and the exclusion of citizens from the strengthening of their democracy and political economy," and he issued a bold ten-point set of ideas, "The Concord Principles: An Agenda for a New Initiatory Democracy." 

In addition to major candidates and non-candidates, there are individuals who come to the cusp of achieving "major candidate" status but don't quite make it.  They may put in as much effort as the better known candidates but lack name recognition, organization or resources.  As a result they get little media attention and are excluded from many multi-candidate forums and debates.  Former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran (D) attracted some interest but was marginalized by party officials and the media and ultimately had little impact.  David Duke (R) had notoriety, but his candidacy never gained a footing due to his white supremacist views. 

Finally, an eclectic mix of low-profile, long-shot candidates put their names forth as candidates.  Their campaigns are often one-man or one-women affairs and may be run out of the home.  Media coverage is scarce or non-existent.  The motives of these individuals vary.  Some are perennial candidates.[2]  Some are running to advance particular issue, while others put together a coherent platform and address a variety of subjects. 

Many of the "minor" or "fringe" candidates concentrate their efforts on the New Hampshire primary[3] and then leave the scene.  In New Hampshire, ballot access is simple[4], retail politics is possible, and journalists are plentiful.  After New Hampshire, the difficulties of meeting the ballot access requirements of various states plus limited finances, greatly restrict the headway these candidates can make.  A total of 25 Republicans, 36 Democrats and 1 Libertarian appeared on the February 18, 1992 New Hampshire ballot; in addition there were the write-in candidacies for Cuomo and Ralph Nader.  Also, oddly, candidates for vice president can run in the New Hampshire primary.

In 1992, "minor" candidates even had an office of their own in Manchester.[5]  People like F. Dean Johnson, a Republican from Long Beach, Calif. (24 votes), Norm Bertasavage, a Republican from Pennsylvania (29 votes), and John Merwin, a Republican from New Hampshire (225 votes) could be found "hanging out" there.  Among Republican minor candidates, Florida businessman Jim Lennane invested $781,000 into his campaign, including some for TV ads (>), to secure a very distant third place finish (1,684 votes), followed by comedian Pat Paulsen (603 votes), and New Hampshirite Richard P. Bosa (352 votes).  Bosa drove a small truck equipped with a speaker system around downtown Manchester.  Among Democratic minor candidates, Tom Laughlin, aka actor Billy Jack, finished sixth (3,518 votes), followed by businessman and WWII veteran Charles Woods (2,862), activist Lenora Fulani (402 votes), and former Mayor Larry Agran (335 votes).[6]  For most of the minor candidates, the campaign ends in New Hampshire, but a few continue on.[7]

1. In addition to Cuomo, others who declined to run included House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (MO) [July 17], Sen. Jay Rockefeller (WV) [Aug. 7], Sen. Al Gore (TN) [Aug. 21], and Rev. Jesse Jackson [Nov. 2].

2. For example, Lyndon LaRouche (D-VA), who had run for president in every election since 1976, was again a candidate, although he was serving a prison sentence in Rochester, MN.  Another repeat candidate, former Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) had inspired many with his 1968 challenge to President Johnson.  He ran again in 1976 as Independent, focusing on reforming election laws, and in 1988 he was on the ballot in several states as a Consumer Party candidate.  In a December 1991 speech in support of McCarthy, Sam Smith said that his "initial self-assigned task was to figure out why the hell he [McCarthy] was running again."  Although McCarthy, 75, put together a thoughtful set of proposals,
advocating economic conversion, energy conservation, economic opportunities, tax reform, universal health care, and a shorter work week, he received minimal coverage and a scant 212 votes in New Hampshire.
3. See: Examples of Campaign Literature from the 1992 New Hampshire Primary.

4. New Hampshire's rules are simple, requiring the candidate to file a declaration of candidacy and pay a $1,000 filing fee.

5. Jack Trinsley, a Republican candidate from Pennsylvania, opened the "Dark Horse Presidential Candidates" headquarters in downtown Manchester on January 14, 1992.  C-SPAN visited and did an interview on February 14.

6. Vote totals in this paragraph show only the votes for the candidate in their respective party primary.  In the Democratic and Republican primaries, there were also several thousand voters who wrote in candidates of the opposing party.  For example Tsongas, Nader and Clinton all tallied over 1,000 votes in the Republican primary and Cuomo, Nader, Bush and Buchanan obtained over 1,000 votes in the Democratic primary.  The numbers are from the New Hampshire Manual for the General Court, 1993.

7. For example, Paulsen won 5,000 votes in Kansas after campaigning there for just two days and gained 10 percent of the vote in North Dakota.  Agran pressed on after New Hampshire, ultimately winning three delegates to the Democratic National Convention.