Hunting respect, outcast candidates find few listeners Stumping in N.H., they blame media

February 06, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Sun Staff Correspondent

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Jim Lennane can't buy respect.

He says he's spending $750,000 of his own money to win the Republican presidential nomination. He has run 1,500 advertisements -- more than President Bush -- but the news media and his opponents ignore him.

"Hey, I'm not a kook. I've got a good business career, I've got experience," protests Mr. Lennane, 52, a Florida resident who made money building a computer company.

With his commercials airing day and night, Mr. Lennane stands out in a crowd of 53 minor candidates -- 23 Republicans and 30 Democrats -- who have paid $1,000 each to be listed on the Feb. 18 New Hampshire primary ballot.

Some are well known or once were: Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam veteran whose story inspired the movie "Born on the Fourth of July;" former actor Tom Laughlin; and quadrennial candidates Harold Stassen, Eugene McCarthy and Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., who is campaigning from prison in Rochester, Minn., where he is serving a 15-year sentence for fraud.

Mainly, though, they are anonymous people flitting across a national spotlight. Most have already vanished.

But a few persist. Barred from major-candidate-only events, they are a colorful and sometimes provocative campaign sideshow.

Lenora B. Fulani, a New York psychologist and radical leftist running as a Democrat, is the best-organized. Of the minor candidates, she alone has raised at least $5,000 in each of 20 states, which qualified her to receive $764,000 in federal matching funds.

Ms. Fulani bristles at the minor-candidate label. From her campaign office on Elm Street here, she and her supporters -- among them the Rev. Al Sharpton, the flamboyant New York City minister -- demonstrate for equal treatment by the Democratic Party and news media.

Larry Agran, former mayor of Irvine, Calif., nearly got arrested for barging into a forum for Democratic candidates.

Other candidates, like Mr. Lennane, are more good-humored about their outsider status. They show up where they won't get kicked out and lobby their way onto radio talk shows and into meetings with newspaper editors around the state.

Several of the lesser-known Democratic candidates received a friendly reception last week at a Democratic Party rally in Franklin. Party officials, mindful of criticism that they had been excluding them, allowed them to speak.

Standing on stage in a school gymnasium, bathed in television lights erected for the major candidates who would follow, they let fly their best oratory.

"Let's bring a minor candidate up to the majors," boomed "Curly" Thornton, who identifies himself as a recovering alcoholic from Montana. "I will feed you. I will clothe you. You'll have health care. You'll have shelter. . . . Vote 'Curly' Feb. 18."

Mr. Laughlin, the actor and director who made the "Billy Jack" action-counterculture films in the early 1970s, said he runs "for the 90 million who are tired of having party machines thrown on us, candidates we don't want and we don't support."

Charles Woods, a wealthy Alabama businessman, said he was "very ashamed" that the United States is the only major nation "that doesn't have a national health plan for its citizens."

Patrick Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister from Boca Raton, Fla., who says he is the only anti-abortion Democratic candidate, denounced news media for reporting on the marital infidelity allegations involving Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. "It was an outrage, and Edward R. Murrow would roll over in his grave."

Hard to categorize ideologically, the candidates generally railed against professional politicians and promised to make government more responsive.

Mr. Woods urged tax reform. Mr. Laughlin said he'd return U.S. troops from South Korea and invest the savings in domestic programs.

The audience of 200 laughed at the best jokes and applauded good-naturedly.

But the candidates knew they could wear out their welcome: While they spoke, a man sitting in the front row discreetly held signs reminding them they had only five minutes.

Afterward, Mr. Laughlin impressed upon a reporter the seriousness of his campaign. "I think we're making history," said Mr. Laughlin, who quotes Montesquieu and Jefferson and boasts of having an IQ of 170 to 190.

His own voter survey found that in parts of the state where his TV commercials have aired, "I got 50 percent more votes than Clinton, and I was the only one to beat Bush."

Mr. Laughlin and some of the other minor candidates are exasperated at not being included in independent polls. Confident that they're making progress, they want recognition.

Mr. Lennane said a survey he commissioned found 44 percent of voters know his name.

He figures that will rise once he launches another 750 commercials.

What he wants is some news media attention and a chance to debate Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Lennane said. Then, he believes, he can win more than 5 percent of the vote Feb. 18, which he said would encourage him to campaign in other states.

Mr. Laughlin also hopes for a future past New Hampshire. It would be a dream straight out of Hollywood.

The last movie he made based on Billy Jack, made in 1977, was called, "Billy Jack Goes to Washington."

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