Roemer, a former governor and congressman from Louisiana, launched an out-of-nowhere presidential exploratory committee earlier this month based on a single issue: taking the power of money out of politics.
“All of these guys have eight PACs and an airplane,” said Roemer of his potential 2012 opponents in an interview with The Fix earlier this week. “I didn’t see anyone who was going to take this issue and run.”
Of course, Roemer isn’t running either — yet. “I want to run,” he said. “Part of my exploration is to see what Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina think about a man trying to do it this way.”
The way Roemer is trying to run for president is decidedly unorthodox; he is limiting himself to contributions of $100 or less. While that amounts to fighting for the nomination with one — or, more accurately, both-- hands behind your back, Roemer thinks it can be done.
And here’s how: convince one person out of every 100 to make $100 donation. That would mean three million people donating $300 million for the primary alone.
While Roemer runs through the math matter-of-factly, it’s hard to overestimate the difficulty inherent in that simple equation. By comparison, three million people made six and a half million online contributions totalling $500 million to President Barack Obama during the entirety of his 2008 campaign. And Obama was an online — and offline -- sensation unlike anything seen before in modern politics.
Roemer is, well, not. He spent seven years as a conservative Democrat representing a northwestern Louisiana congressional district before taking on Gov. Edwin Edwards (D) — a titan in Louisiana politics — in 1987. Roemer beat Edwards by five points in the primary and became governor when Edwards withdrew from the runoff .
Roemer wound up switching parties just prior to his 1991 re-election bid and that, plus the return of Edwards and the candidacy of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, doomed Roemer’s chances for a second term. (That race, one of the greatest governors contests ever, produced Edwards’ famous “Vote for the crook, it’s important” campaign slogan.)
“I am proud of my wins and my losses in that system,” Roemer reflected, noting that he set self-imposed contribution limits in the 1987 race but still managed to raise $1.7 million and win. As further evidence that he is no election-year convert on campaign finance, Roemer noted that in 2008 he went to John McCain — the two served together in the House — and asked the Arizona Senator to adopt the $100 contribution limit. “John gave it some thought and said ‘I can’t do it,’” said Roemer.
McCain’s resistance to the Roemer proposal sums up the challenge before the former Louisiana governor. Fundraising, particularly in the early stages of a presidential race, is regarded as evidence of viability. Without viability, donations are hard to come by. (People like winners — or potential winners — when it comes to opening their checkbooks.) For someone like Roemer, that could be a very vicious cycle.
While Roemer’s bid looks quixotic at the moment, he does have a few things going for him.
First, the Internet has proven to be something of a financial leveler for those candidates who are able to channel online energy into donations. (Longshot Texas Rep. Ron Paul raised $50 million in his 2008 presidential bid, largely in web donations.)
Second, Roemer has the common touch that has made southern politicians so successful at the national level in recent presidential elections. Roemer is a fount of populist one-liners — “I think privilege is fine but we need to be a party of plain people,” he says — and accentuates his points with an impassioned pounding of his fist on the table. (He also regularly refers to himself in the third person.)
While Roemer is no Pollyanna about his chances in the race but seems to revel in his his longshot status. “People say ‘Oh Buddy, you have always been a little out of the box’,” he says, before asking: “Why not me?”