LOS ANGELES (CBLA.com) — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might be the respective front-runners of the Democrats and Republicans but there are others in the race who hope to get some name recognition. Many others.
And we’re not talking about Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
A new book — called “The Can’t-idates,: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name”” (Bobtimystic Books) looks at scores of other people who are hoping to become your next commander-in-chief.
Author Craig Tomashoff — a Los-Angeles-based former associate bureau chief for both PEOPLE Magazine and executive editor of TV Guide — drove thousands of miles and interviewed the various hopefuls. (He’s signing copies of the book Friday, March 25 at Book Soup in West Hollywood — 8818 Sunset Blvd– at 7 p.m.)
CBSLA.com recently asked him about where the idea for the book came from — and if these hopefuls are serious about their races or, just seriously crazy.
CT: The idea for the book came about for a couple reasons. First, in 2011, I was working as a segment producer for an Australian talk show that filmed in Los Angeles. I suggested we do a field piece about some of the crazy people who run for president because I thought the Aussies would find it funny. We ended up using a Republican vampire pro wrestler and while the segment wasn’t great, it started me thinking about why somebody would take on this task. Everyone they know will think they’re crazy. They will lose any money they have. And they will never end up in the Oval Office.
CBSLA: Do these folks, any of them, really think they have a realistic shot?
CT: That is what got me wanting to delve into the psychology of people who run for president knowing full well they will never get famous. Plus, this seemed like it’d be an election where we all hated our choices. Meanwhile, every candidate would position him/herself as the outsider, the “real person” in the race. Hence, I figured it might be worth it to go meet the actual “real people” running instead.
CBSLA: You went all over the country. How did you meet the people?
CT: On March 1, 2015, I sent out letters to all 193 people who had filed their paperwork with the FEC. I figured that if they were really serious, they would have done this by a year before Super Tuesday. I heard back from about 100, and talked to each one of those people. I wanted to find people who had great personal stories, and weren’t necessarily nuts. And realistically, none of them see themselves being sworn in next January. But many of them sincerely believe that by running and getting some attention, they can start a movement that would at least get people thinking about all their choices for president. I drove 10,000 miles in three weeks to meet 15 people last May. In my rented Nissan. Using my AARP discount. And staying at nothing but Motel 6s and mostly eating Wendy’s.
CBSLA: That sounds…hellish.
CT: For what it’s worth, I dare any cable news ready candidate to do the same. They should make it like a presidential version of “Undercover Boss.” If you really want to run the country, then you should ditch all your advisers and really go meet people.
CBSLA: Are these 100 people — for the most part — one issue candidates?
CT: As for their issues, to be honest, we didn’t delve as deeply into those as I did into who they are and what drove them. But many of them were driven by particular issues. The Vietnam vet in Florida dying from Agent Orange wants the country to know firsthand how horrible it is to deal with the VA. The unemployed father of four in rural Michigan wants the country to see how short-sighted we are on everything from drugs to welfare to abortion. The mom in Arkansas raising her 19-year-old severely autistic son wants to draw attention to the struggles of welfare mothers — and not the stereotype the right-wing likes to promote. She wants to work but needs full-time care for her son. The government says if she wants money for him, she has to get a job first. So it’s a conundrum she can’t get out of.
CBSLA: You clearly met some people who touched you very deeply. Any favorites?
CT: Favorites? It’s hard to pick. I really loved the openness and honesty of Lori Fleming, the Arkansas mom. I had a great time with the very quirky Texas rancher John Green Ferguson. You don’t get better than playing putt putt golf in the woods with Vermin Supreme. And the Michigan man, Bart Lower — he may look and sound like a high school principal but the man is brilliant and I would vote for him over any of the mainstream candidates. And Rev. Pamela Pinkney Butts in Cleveland. She’s had a hard life but perhaps the most compelling moment of the trip was when she took me to meet her estranged daughter in the projects, and I ended up taking the daughter out to get money to buy the first pair of nice shoes she’d ever owned. It was going to be her 21st birthday in a few days, she’d never had a birthday party before,
CBSLA: Did writing this book give you more insight into the political process?
CT: I suppose. I think I walked away with the realization that whenever any politician says they know what the American people want, they are lying. Not surprisingly. They only know what their little group of followers want. The American people aren’t Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, right wing or left wing. We’re just people with good and bad stuff in our life and it’d behoove everyone to look at the world through the eyes of others. Cliché, I know, but it’s true. We’re a nation very short on empathy.
CBSLA: The two major parties do have a lock on the process. Do you see a real third party ever emerging?
CT: A real third party? I highly doubt it. If one doesn’t emerge from the mess we’re in at the moment, I can’t imagine it ever happening.
CBSLA: Have any of the “Can’t-idates” made a career out of running, or were most of these people running for the first time?
CT: Well, Vermin Supreme – maybe the smartest guy I met – has been running his prankster campaign since 1992. And he always generates a little buzz but it’s going beyond that this year. It doesn’t hurt that he promises free candy and ponies in exchange for votes. Harley Brown, the Hell’s Angel in Boise, has been running for a variety of offices over the years. Two years ago, he ran for governor in Idaho and through some political machinations by the Republican governor, he ended up in a televised debate. And had a couple days of fame when MSNBC and others ran clips of him.
CBSLA: Without generalizing, are most of the people you talked to…professionals, regular folks, working class? Accomplished folks with gripes, like maybe a mini version of Trump?
CT: When you ask about the accomplishments of these people, that’s definitely not true of the ones I went out to meet. These are people you meet at the grocery store, at the mall, in a bar. Which is their charm. There were a few I spoke to on the phone who were lawyers and doctors, but I wasn’t really after that. I wanted to find people as far removed from the process as possible.
CBSLA: Well, then the best way to ask this … are some of these folks just plain crazy?
CT: (Laughs) Just plain crazy? Yes. Some. There were a few who were unaware that you had to be 35 in order to run. There was a stripper in New York who wanted to work on pro-public nudity legislation — odd because that would probably cut down on her business. There was the guy who wanted to create a system of government where we had many presidents who served on a council.