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Stealth Candidacy

McKinney travels in a rented Hyundai Sonata, taking turns driving with an aide who has accompanied her on at least one all-night drive from Maryland to Louisiana. Her skeleton staff frequently has no idea where she is. The calendar on her campaign Web site is empty. Her phone goes unanswered; the box for her voice mail is full.

She is a Candidate of Mystery.

When she surfaces, as she did for two appearances and a live Internet discussion one recent weekend in Georgia -- the state that sent her to Congress six times and kicked her out twice -- she's got a lot to say about a lot of things, but not much about running for president. (She's on the ballot in 32 states, but not here in Georgia, where she blasts "restrictive ballot laws" and asks followers to write in her name Nov. 4.)

She believes there are "credible reports" that the U.S. military dumped 5,000 prisoners -- each with "a single bullet wound to the head" -- in Louisiana swamps using Hurricane Katrina as cover.

She believes that Jeb Bush -- the president's brother -- facilitated Colombian drug shipments into the United States when he was governor of Florida.

She believes the "corporate media" are censoring stories about the United States "restarting dirty wars in Latin America" and about "Bush's real problem with Eliot Spitzer," a head-turner that she dangles without specifying which Bush she is talking about or explaining.

"We don't really know who killed Martin Luther King," she says, rolling now as she addresses the Panther group in the auditorium. "We don't really know who killed Bobby Kennedy. We don't really know who killed John Kennedy. We don't really know who killed Tupac Shakur."

She delivers most of her remarks in a sweet, honeyed, almost girlish voice. When she isn't talking, she's smiling. Her face is enviably unlined, making her appear younger than her 53 years. She's mad about so many things, but she looks so happy.

Gone is the cyclone of hair that Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan once described as somewhere "between a polished Afro and a head of funky twists." Now her dark locks are pulled back tightly in braids knitted at the back of her head. Her thick pantsuit jacket has small holes in the sleeves, but it's a crowd-pleaser. A man grabs her elbow as she walks into the auditorium -- "Green jacket for the Green Party!"

She is joined onstage for a panel on FBI spying by Ward Churchill, a former star University of Colorado professor who provoked outrage by writing that Sept. 11 victims were "little Eichmanns" and not "innocent civilians." For her part, McKinney was ridiculed in the months after the attack for suggesting that the Bush administration knew more than it let on before planes hit the World Trade Center.

Churchill says he has never voted for president, not wanting to validate an "occupation" government that seized land from Native Americans.

But he voted this year.


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