There will be at least five candidates on the stage for the first Democratic presidential debate of the season on Tuesday (8 p.m. CT). But apparently host CNN has decided that only two really matter.
One commercial splashes the front-runner names - “Clinton” and “Sanders” - in huge letters, like the fight card for a boxing match.
Then much smaller, like the undercard competitors, come the names O’Malley, Webb and Chafee.
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That would be Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, the three men fighting for some valuable air time and simple name recognition.
A sixth Democratic candidate didn’t make the cut. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig launched his campaign to call attention to the influence money has on politics.
He complained to the New York Times that he’s “surprised by the lack of recognition from the Democratic Party. It’s unclear how if you’re not a politician or a billionaire you get to a place where you are able to participate.”
He also suggested that if he doesn’t get to participate in the first two debates, he’ll have to call it quits.
Every political season creates a new class of also-rans, scores of presidential wannabes whose campaigns never make it into primetime or are taken seriously.
Since 1980, nearly 2,500 people have filled out the form required by the Federal Election Commission to run for president. You’ll never know the names of most of them. (But if you care to know, check out the list of declared candidates this season kept by the political tracking site presidential-candidates.org.)
Here’s a quick primer on the three Democrats you’ve probably heard very little about this season and a few other folks who have set their caps for the White House over the years. Tuesday’s debate is in Las Vegas. The second Democratic debate is scheduled for Nov. 14 on CBS.
Background: He’s the former governor of Maryland. He’ll probably tout a fact he’s been using on the campaign trail, that he’s the only one on the stage with 15 years of executive experience working the front lines on big issues including law enforcement, race and economic prosperity.
Underdog status: The latest CNN/ORC poll in September showed him fighting to break out beyond a single percentage point.
He picked a fight: He’s been slamming Democratic National Committee leaders for not scheduling more than six sanctioned debates, implying that they’re trying to protect front-runner Clinton. Republicans will debate twice as many times. “There's always a tendency of parties to do that, but I think it shows a lot of fear about the future,” he told CNN.
He’s progressive: He supported the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland, increased taxes on the wealthy and provided in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants, according to CNN.
In recent days he outlined a nationwide gun reform plan, part of which would allow victims of gun violence and their families to sue gun makers and sellers for compensation.
Hail Mary pass: “I believe this campaign is heading into another phase now,” he told CNN. “One of the rules of thumb in these presidential contests is that whatever candidate is surging in September is not the candidate who is surging in January.”
Background: He’s a decorated Marine Corps veteran. He has been Secretary of the Navy and was elected to the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 2006, running on an anti-Iraq war platform.
He used to be: A Republican. He switched parties to run against Republican Sen. George Allen in 2006.
The quiet campaign: He formally announced his candidacy in early July. But Max J. Rosenthal, the reporter who is covering the Webb campaign for Mother Jones, filed a story on Friday under this headline: “Is Jim Webb Really Running for President? An Investigation.”
“It's sometimes hard to know he's still out there if you don't follow his Twitter feed,” writes Rosenthal. “That feed, by the way, has just under 14,500 followers, fewer than the nearly 20,000 who follow former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who's even more under the radar as a Democratic hopeful. (To be fair, Webb beats Chafee on Facebook.)”
The issues: He talks frequently about economic fairness and closing the gap between the wealth and poor. He favors overhauling taxes and would consider shifting tax policies to focus more on consumption than income.
Considered a champion of veterans’ issues, he’s been critical of the backlog of claims in the Veterans Administration system.
He also favors overhauling the criminal justice system, which he believes wastes lives, “often beginning at a very early age, creating career criminals rather than curing them. It’s not making our neighborhoods safer.”
He writes novels: He wrote the story that inspired the 2000 movie “Rules of Engagement” with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. During his Senate race, opponent Allen tried to use sex scenes from Webb’s books against him. Allen lost anyway.
Background: He is a former U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, and served as the state’s governor, too.
Why he’s running: “I’m very, very concerned (about) the world after September 11. We made some bad decisions and now we need to repair what’s happened. . . . I had the good judgment not to vote for the Iraq war and I want to be the one making peace” in the Middle East, he said at a recent candidates’ forum in New Hampshire.
He used to be: A Republican. He tells voters that he was the only Republican senator to oppose the Iraq war. When he lost reelection in 2006, he left the party, which he felt had drifted too far to the right. He was elected governor as an Independent.
Nothing to lose: Chafee is described as notoriously unfiltered and is expected to jab hard at Clinton, especially on her 2002 vote favoring the Iraq war. On the campaign trail he talks about how instability in the Middle East and current problems with ISIS started with the Iraq war.
Personality: A recent Boston Globe story said that Chafee “is known in Rhode Island politics as principled, if a little quirky; a politician who sometimes dances to drumbeats nobody else can hear.”
Lost in the shadows: He doesn’t poll strong enough to even show up on some national presidential surveys. “At this stage it’s a lot of name recognition,” he told the Globe. “Not getting invited on the Sunday shows makes it harder.”
They also ran
▪ Vermin Love Supreme: This performance artist, a self-described “friendly fascist,” appears on nearly every list of “The Craziest People Who Have Ever Run for President.” Some of his ideas have included making it a law that every American brushes his teeth and everyone gets a free pony. “It will create lots and lots of jobs once we switch over to a pony-based economy,” says Supreme, who is running again this year and is visiting 20 cities to conjure support.
▪ Roseanne Barr: The Hollywood actress filed with the FEC in 2012 under the “Green Tea Party” ticket. She wanted to talk about mental health issues - and behead greedy Wall Street bankers.
▪ Limberbutt McCubbins: This candidate from Kentucky has his paws out this season - because he’s a cat. Two high school seniors, including his owner, registered his candidacy with the FEC this spring, creating “The Committee for the Installation of Limberbutt.” The candidate is a “demo-cat.” Apparently no FEC laws were broken in the launching of said campaign committee.
▪ John G. Schmitz: One joke suggests that this is the candidate for whom the term “wingnut” was invented. The California congressman was the American Independent Party candidate for president in 1972 and known for outrageous rhetoric. He was kicked out of the John Birch Society because he was too extreme.
But he gave good quotes. When Nixon went to China, Schmitz said, “I have no objection to President Nixon going to China. I just object to his coming back.”
▪ Deez Nuts: Iowa high-schooler Brady C. Olson became a media sensation and trending Twitter topic this summer when he declared his candidacy under the name Deez Nuts. Though not technically old enough to be Commander-in-Chief, Brady was inspired to run a parody campaign because he “really didn’t want to see Clinton, Bush, or Trump in the White House, so I guess I’m just trying to put up a fight.”
▪ Jello Biafra: The Dead Kennedys frontman lost the Green Party’s nomination in 2000 to Ralph Nader. Might it have had something to do with his death-row-inmate running mate, and that he wanted to lower the voting age to five?
▪ Mike Gravel: The former U.S. Senator from Alaska ran for president in 2008 and posted a series of unnerving videos to YouTube. In one, he simply stares into the camera, expressionless, then hurls a big rock into a lake.
▪ Tami Stainfield: This 2012 candidate also used YouTube videos in her campaign. But people who watched them couldn’t tell if they were campaign speeches or cries for help. In one, she lets the “men who occupy my brain” speak, then starts talking in what sounds like tongues.
Lisa Gutierrez: 816-234-4987