In New Hampshire, fringe candidates get their moment

December 20, 2011

Bipartisanship flourishes among fringe candidates. Democrat Vermin Supreme and Republican Hugh Cort share a laugh before Monday night’s debate at Saint Anselm College.

New Hampshire voters looking for something different got to size up some other presidential candidates on Monday night. The questions were pointed, the answers often succinct, sensible and serious. But some of the platforms were narrowly focused and, well, a bit wacky.

“I’m here to tell you about thorium, an overlooked energy alternative,” said Robert Greene, a Democrat from Mountain View, California. “If politicians are having any discussion that does not include thorium, they have not had a serious energy discussion.”

It was the “Lesser Known Candidates’ forum” at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. Organizers put out the welcome mat to any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who is on the ballot for the New Hampshire presidential primary but has not appeared at a nationally televised debate.

Obscure candidates are drawn to New Hampshire by its low $1,000 filing fee. The state’s Jan. 10 presidential primary will have some 44 candidates listed.

On Monday, ten Republicans and seven Democrats held separate debates. The candidates were mostly earnest and surprisingly unflappable during lightning rounds of questions that ranged from Second Amendment rights to instability on the Korean peninsula to health care to a comprehensive energy policy to selecting Supreme Court justices.

Bear Betzler of Philadelphia was stumped, though, when asked which of the crop of top-tier Republicans he might pick as his running mate. “I can’t say I’m adequately prepared for that eventuality,” said Betzler, whose biggest concern is the high national debt but who said he is “not that into politics.” Ultimately he said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney “would be a good second.”

Benjamin Linn of Milford, New Hampshire, picked up on a recent suggestion for Texas governor Rick Perry, whose standing in some polls has dropped almost to “fringe” levels recently. He said Congressional pay should be cut in half. “When they start to work for us, we’ll give them a raise later on,” Linn added.

Getting rid of the Federal Reserve won support from certain candidates on both sides of the aisle, while gun rights won wide support from most except Democrat Ed O’Donnell from Philadelphia, who is running on a “no guns, no wars, guaranteed job income for everyone” platform.

Dr. Hugh Cort of Birmingham, Alabama, was the night’s defense hawk, warning of a grave nuclear threat from Iran and saying the U.S. needs to crack down on nuclear devices he said are being smuggled in via Venezuela and Mexico.

Among the Democrats, Vermin Supreme, a perennial candidate-slash-performance artist from Massachusetts, was quizzed on whether he was the same kind of flip-flopper as Romney, who is making his second run at the White House and is often accused of switching positions.

Did Supreme – who sported the customary rubber boot on his head – stand by his 2008 pledge of “ponies for every American?”

“Yes I do, sir,” Supreme said. “One of the overlooked issues in America today. It will create lots and lots of jobs once we switch over to a pony-based economy.”

The debate sometimes sounded like “The Dating Game.” One candidate termed himself a “natural left-handed, peace-loving Pisces.” Another claimed to be “a writer/thinker who has been published on three continents.”

Some candidates seemed confused about what party they might best represent. Long-time anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who is running as a Democrat, railed against environmentalists, gay marriage and higher taxes for the wealthy. The candidate, who arrived in a full length fur coat, called Barack Obama “the worst president in U.S. history,”

At the end of the debate, Supreme tossed glitter over Terry, pronouncing that he was now “gay.”

Democrat and anti-abortion activist Randall Terry was showered with glitter at the end of Monday’s debate.

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