WASHINGTON – A gray-bearded man wearing a boot on his head and a jacket with yellow and black stripes roamed the streets of Manchester,N.H.,during the 2008 Republican primary campaign. Although he seemed out of place,the man was there for a simple reason.
“My name is Vermin Love Supreme,and I'm running for president,” he said on his megaphone,according to a video on his Web site.
Asked if Vermin Love Supreme was his birth name,his answer was vague.
“Yeah,sure we'll go with that,” Supreme said.
Supreme was in New Hampshire to run in the Republican primary,and he claims it wasn't a joke,but he did say in an interview that he has been known to lie to the media. His ideas for the country are nowhere near the forefront of the 2008 presidential election.
Supreme would like to invest money in research for time traveling and implement a national tooth brushing law. He says people should vote for him because he's the “most awesome candidate in the race.”
Although Sens. Barack Obama,D-Ill.,and John McCain,R-Ariz.,get nearly all of the media attention,the presidential race doesn't lack for independent and third-party candidates.
Votesmart.org,a non-profit organization lists 271 candidates who have announced their intentions to run and 62 more potential candidates who could run in the 2008 campaign. Those numbers also include Republicans and Democrats – some well known and some not – who have dropped out of the race since McCain and Obama have locked up their parties' nominations.
Professor Ron Rapoport is third-party politics expert at William and Mary University in Virginia. He co-authored “Three's a Crowd: The Dynamics of Third-Party Politics” after Ross Perot ran in 1992 and 1996. Rapoport said these candidates know they're likely to lose,not only in this election but also in the future.
“In some ways,if you know you're going to lose,expressing your true beliefs is more important. I think that's what you have with some candidates,” Rapoport said. “Maybe you have an issue that you really care about,or you get a story written about you.”
Ralph Nader's bid in 2000 became infamous because he likely cost the Democratic nominee,Al Gore,votes in key states,including Florida. Nader has run in every presidential election since 1992,but lost the Green Party nomination this year to Cynthia McKinney,a former member of the House of Representatives from Georgia.
Chuck Baldwin is a candidate from the U.S. Taxpayers Party. According to his campaign Web site,Baldwin is a strong believer in the Second Amendment and has had a lifelong membership with the Gun Owners of America.
While some,like Supreme,are a little far fetched,Liberterian Party candidate Bob Barr,said he believes he can win.
“Winning is a long shot,but it is a realistic possibility,” Barr said in an interview. “Ronald Reagan didn't have a great chance of winning when he first started running. Jimmy Carter had very little chance of winning when he first started running.”
Barr is a former member of the House from Georgia who was one of the leaders in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He was a Republican then.
“The Republican Party left me. The Republican Party is no longer the one I joined and worked with for three decades,” Barr said. “It is no longer the party of small government and lower taxes. It is a party that very clearly is illustrated by the Bush administration that believes in absolute power residing in the executives.”
Barr said he wants to reduce the power and size of the federal government. He also said he would move to substantially reduce the number of troops in Iraq and “remove our economic security blanket that is costing the American people billions of dollars every month.”
Although Rapoport said he doubts Barr will get much support,he admits Libertarians have grown in recent years.
“The Libertarians have actually become much more of a factor,” Rapoport said. “They win some local elections,and the Greens win some local elections in small towns. But even in a state like Georgia,where he's most likely to do well,I doubt he gets even 5 percent of the vote.”
Gene Amondson is the Prohibition Party's candidate. He has one issue: to prohibit the use and production of alcohol like the United States did in the 1920s.
“The cirrhosis of liver was cut in half,” Amondson said. “They're the greatest years America had. They were the last years we balanced the budget until Nixon. … If America knew that all of our problems were coming from alcohol,they would go dry overnight again.”
Amondson said he knows he has no chance of winning,so he supports McCain. He added that third parties are important because they raise good questions.
“He's running because this issue is so important to him,” Rapoport said. “It's an attempt to get an issue you care about and give it some life.”
Bruce Bongardt wants to raise no such questions. But he's also running for president. He seems like an average,42-year-old male who just lost his job when the federal government cut the funding in the aerospace program. He announced his candidacy on June 11 at the National Press Club. The news conference was low key – only three reporters showed up.
Bongardt,like Supreme,assured the media “this is not a joke.” He said he wanted to be upfront with the American people,so he admitted it took him 10 years before he finally got a degree from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
Bongardt added he has $50,000 in debt and suffered from voyeurism while he was married. To recover from these occurrences,he started the Proudican Party. He's the only member and hopes to get some more support for his platform that includes 40 weeks per year instead of 52 and a National Debt Forgiveness Day,when 40 percent of everyone's debt would be forgiven.
Although they are at time humorous and,with the exception of Barr and Nader,probably won't be on ballots in many states,third-party and independent candidates do have a place in presidential elections,Rapaport said.
“I really see successful third parties as correctives to failures of the major parties,” Rapoport said. “When a major party fails,third parties serve as safety valves,which alert the major parties about their failures and give them a chance to respond.”