He had not been invited to actually partake in the debate, so Roemer had again come up with an alternative: to pace in front of CNN and shout answers at the screen while two aides sat barefoot on his bed and tweeted his responses. “Can we order some room service?” one of them asked. They turned up the volume as eight other candidates strolled across the stage, each one introduced to a standing ovation. Romney. Bachmann. Gingrich. Cain. Santorum. Perry. Paul. Huntsman.
“This is the best our party has to offer?” Roemer said. “How the heck did we decide that these are our most electable candidates?”
That has become an maddening question for Roemer and more than a dozen other lesser-known presidential hopefuls, who wonder why they are ignored even in this wide-open Republican primary, in which voters express dissatisfaction with their options and shift from one temporary front-runner to the next.
Why not Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico? Why not Thad McCotter, a congressman from Michigan? Why not Fred Karger, a senior political consultant who advised three presidents?
And why not Roemer, 68, a former governor and congressman from Louisiana, a Harvard graduate, a cotton farmer’s son, a Methodist, a thriving businessman?
“What I’m learning is that becoming president is not always about experience and ideas,” Roemer said. “It’s also about money, fame and momentum.”
Like other unknown candidates, Roemer has been stuck in a cycle of anonymity ever since he formed his campaign and moved to New Hampshire in the summer, inviting his senior staff member to sleep on his couch and establishing a temporary headquarters at the coffee shop inside Barnes & Noble. He lacks money to buy advertisements, he said, “so even distant relatives don’t know” that he is running for president. Some pollsters forget to include him as an option in their polls. His low support numbers — usually 1 or 2 percent nationally — disqualify him from participating in debates.
While the top contenders stand straight and attempt to look presidential behind their lecterns in front of 6 million viewers on national television, Roemer fiddles with the buttons on a flat-screen TV in his ninth-floor hotel room, trying to improve the reception.
“The picture keeps going fuzzy,” he said. “This might be a long night.”
“Want me to call the front desk?” his campaign manager asked.
Roemer shook his head and grabbed a Diet Coke. For the next two hours, he listened to the moderator’s questions and shouted back at the TV while his staffers typed into their laptops. He clenched his fist, pounded it against the dresser and loosened his tie. “Bachmann and Newt are clueless on our liberties!” he said. And then: “Expand the drones!” And then: “Get out of Afghanistan. It’s a corrupt country.”