Some Presidential Candidates Get No Respect

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, many in the media declared he was the 14th Republican to officially declare his presidential candidacy. In actuality, over 100 Republicans have filed with the Federal Elections Commission as candidates for the GOP nomination. Most are ignored because of their lack of name recognition, potential to get their names on enough state and territorial ballots, and their dearth of campaign money.

However, usually there is one candidate at the margins who has gravitas, yet is largely disregarded. This year's victim is Mark Everson, former Deputy Director of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services where he administered the enforcement of the Immigration and Control Act under President Ronald Reagan. Everson also served as Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under President George W. Bush. Everson later headed the Red Cross.

In every presidential election there are candidates with compelling resumes who the high command of the political parties and the media rarely mention. In almost every election cycle, a formidable candidate fails to make the cut.

Two Minnesotans, Republican Harold Stassen and Democrat Eugene McCarthy, both had a major impact on their party's nomination. However, later in life the two politicians ran for their party's nomination and both were treated as non-entities.

Stassen was once a boy-wonder in GOP Politics. He was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1938 at just 31 years old. Just two years later, the rising star delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. Stassen was a candidate for his party's nomination in 1940 and was the Floor Leader for the party's nominee Wendell Willkie.

In 1948, Stassen, now a former Governor, was an early frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination after defeating New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the Nebraska and Wisconsin Primaries. However, Stassen lost his momentum following a loss to U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH) in Taft's home state, and following a defeat by Dewey in the hotly-contested Oregon primary. Dewey became the frontrunner and eventually won the nomination. Stassen was a potential runningmate for Dewey but lost out to California Governor Earl Warren. In 1952, Stassen ran as a stalking horse for Dwight D. Eisenhower against Taft. Eisenhower had not yet declared his candidacy, and 41 Republican luminaries supported Stassen's candidacy until Eisenhower entered the race.

Stassen ran for president seven more times, each time mustering less attention. Stassen went from the boy-wonder of the party to a quixotic candidate who the party and media networks did not even invite to debates and rarely acknowledged his presence in the race. U.S. Senator Charles Percy (R-IL) averred: "The Principal problem of Harold Stassen is that someone early told him that he should be president and he believed it."

Similarly, Eugene McCarthy was once a rising star in the Democratic Party. After being elected to a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota in 1958, the freshman Senator came to national notice by delivering a speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, urging delegates to support Adlai Stevenson for president. In 1964, he was the runner-up to his Minnesota colleague Hubert Humphrey as President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vice Presidential running mate. In 1968, McCarthy became a cult figure to opponents of the Vietnam War. Disillusioned young adults shaved their beards going "Clean for Gene" and his campaign became a "children's crusade." McCarthy shocked the body politic by coming within eight points of defeating Johnson in the New Hampshire Primary. A poll showed he was ahead of the president in the Wisconsin Primary. Johnson subsequently announced he would not be a candidate for reelection. McCarthy then captured a plurality of the vote in the Democratic primaries, but lost the nomination to Vice President Hubert Humphrey who mustered more delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Four years later, McCarthy ran again, but was overshadowed by the campaign of U.S. Senator George McGovern (D-SD) who was also an opponent of the U.S. role in Vietnam. McCarthy later left the Democratic Party, launching an Independent presidential bid in 1976, pocketing just 0.91 percent of the popular vote in the General Election. Later in life, McCarthy became a Democrat once again and ran for the party's presidential nomination in 1992. Instead of being treated as an elder statesman who had made history in the party, McCarthy was treated as a non-entity. He was shut out of most debates and was ignored by the party high command and the media.

McCarthy was not the only credentialed candidate who was ignored that year. Larry Agran was the former mayor of Irvine, CA, a city with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants. His name appeared on the ballot in 40 jurisdictions. When allowed to address Democratic forums, his message of economic conversion from military to domestic spending struck resonant chords with the party's liberal base. Although he managed to garner some television interviews, Agran was not treated with the respect afforded his Democratic compatriots. One network literally broke its promise to provide Agran with makeup, forcing an aid to gallivant to Super Savor to purchase it for him. On another occasion, when he appeared at a forum with three other Democratic candidates, the Associated Press literally cropped him out of their photograph.

One poll showed Agran ahead of former California Governor Jerry Brown. However, ABC News, in reporting on the poll, mentioned Brown's numbers, but not Agran's. In a surreal moment, Agran attended a debate as an audience member (he was not invited as a participant) and was arrested for heckling the moderator.

Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown would often say the party had six presidential candidates, ignoring both McCarthy and Agran. However, the two candidates did get invited to a debate late in the primary season, in Buffalo along with the remaining "major" candidates, Jerry Brown and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. In his opening statement, McCarthy amused the crowed by deadpanning: "This is the highest-ranking Democratic organization that's let me talk to them for 20 years. I've got a lot of things to say."

The New York Times devoted most of its coverage of the debate to Clinton and Brown, musing of Agran: "Mr. Agran devoted most of his opening statement to demanding more time, and at the end tried Mr. Brown's tactic of reciting an "800" phone number for campaign contributors to call." Regarding McCarthy, the paper wrote: "Mr. McCarthy, who spent much of the debate doodling on a pad, turned his wit on President Bush, whom he called a "traveling salesman."

As more candidates enter the Presidential sweepstakes, we must keep in mind that when members of the media and the high command of the respective parties mention the number of candidates, they are only mentioning ones they deem to be "major candidates." As in past elections, there are many more choices. Some are vanity candidates, yet some offer formidable credentials but simply do not make the arbitrary debate cut. Currently, Mark Everson is experiencing the blackout effect in presidential politics.

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