MANCHESTER, N.H. — On the last day of politicking before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman gripped and grinned their way all across the diners and Rotary Clubs of southern New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, at a storefront beside the Subway on the city’s main street, Ed O’Donnell, who is on the Democratic ballot for Tuesday’s presidential primary, peeled off his pink thrift-shop sweater, sat down at a table inside the Lesser-Known Presidential Candidates Campaign Headquarters and held forth:
“I come up here and I say, no guns — like in England, Holland, Japan, Australia, where there were 20 or 30 gun murders and we had 20,000 or 30,000 [in this country]; mental health courses in high school, no wars, guaranteed jobs using private charitable dollars, and nonviolent foreign policy, based on feeding, clothing and educating the Third World poor.”
Everybody runs around acting as though President Obama has no primary opposition, but that’s not technically true. O’Donnell, who is 63 and a self-described Philadelphia philanthropist, is running against him. So are Cornelius Edward O’Connor of West Palm Beach, Fla., Randall Craig “Tax Freeze” Freis of Lake Elsinore, Calif., and Vermin Supreme of Rockport, Mass.
You ever think of running for president, New Hampshire is your place. Pay the secretary of state $1,000, and you’re good to go.
That all seems right and fair and worthy of respect to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, which hosted the lesser-known candidates’ debate in December, and to C-Span, which broadcast it.
And that seems right and fair to local political gadfly Glenn Ouellette, who opened the lesser-known presidential candidates headquarters a month ago.
Ouellette put a red-white-and-blue runner on the long conference table and a couple of fake flowers in a whiskey bottle printed with the Declaration of Independence, set up a TV camera and invited all the candidates who couldn’t poll their way onto a debate stage.
He hoped it would be a sanctuary of respect for those usually treated as absurdist performance artists — and bad ones, at that.
What’s really absurd, after all, theorized Ouellette, is that “the president creates a committee of 12 — six Democrats and six Republicans — and they can’t get together in a period of two or three months to find $1.2 trillion of waste to trim the deficit, because they don’t want to.”
It’s high time the lesser-knowns got their own clubhouse; there’s plenty of them every cycle. The all-time high was in 1992, when 36 Democrats and 25 Republicans were on the ballot.
“We’re called the lesser-known candidates,” airline pilot Christopher Hill, who wants tax reform to let middle-class Americans keep more money, said at that debate. “Tonight, we stand for the lesser-known Americans.”
Ouellette has run for office several times, most recently for mayor, and he finally won a recent election to serve as an independent selectman. On Tuesday, he’ll get up at 4:30 a.m. for his first day as a ballot inspector, which is what selectmen inspect.
Ouellette, who is 59 and publishes an alternative paper, the Queen City Examiner, keeps cookies at the center for the candidates, films interviews with them and puts them on a public-interest Web site, qcenews.com. Most of them, he says, offer utterly reasonable positions.
The candidates have dropped one by one. Some of them even look like real politicians, such as Buddy Roemer — probably because he is a real politician.
Roemer, a former congressman and governor from Louisiana now polling between 3 and 5 percent in the state, pokes his head into the center while O’Donnell is speaking about the need for love, peace and understanding, then respectfully tiptoes away. Roemer’s gray hair is neatly trimmed, he’s wearing a respectable black wool overcoat, and he seems to have actual aides. O’Donnell, on the other hand, is wearing his usual “unisex” ensemble, which today features red women’s flats.
His résuménotes he played sports at Wilmington Friends School and graduated from Colgate University, had a Rockefeller fellowship to Harvard’s divinity school and taught a course at its Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics. His Winthrop Foundation, O’Donnell says, has donated more than $1 million in free tickets to sporting events and concerts for disadvantaged young people in Philadelphia. (None of this could be confirmed at presstime.)
O’Donnell says he has been running for president in New Hampshire “since 1984 with a message of pure idealism I will never compromise. That’s why I’m not president.”
If he were elected president, he promises he would serve for a month and a half, “in the best tradition of William Henry Harrison,” although presumably leaving out the dying of pneumonia part. Then he would turn over the reins of power to his dynamic running mate, whom he has vowed not to identify yet.
In fact, O’Donnell, running for the seventh time, is the one to watch on Tuesday as returns roll in.
“I’ve gotten more votes for president in the New Hampshire primary,” he proclaims, “than any totally unknown candidate — 246.”
And that’s cumulative.