Dark Horses

If you're on a deserted sidestreet in Manchester, New Hampshire, on a cold day in February and a light snow is beginning to fall and the signs of economic recession are all around, then you know several shades of bleak. Then you know new dimensions of dreariness.

I was on that street. And I stopped to take a picture.

What caught my eye was the sign on a storefront: Dark Horse Presidential Candidates Headquarters. A deserted sidestreet in Manchester is just where you'd expect to find the Dark Horse Headquarters. One picture would tell the story.

But as I approached my subject something on the street changed. Presences that had been lurking were suddenly alert. An electrical current charged the air. A journalist was present, with camera and notepad. That was me.

"Who are you writing for?" called out a woman who came toward me from the parking lot across the street. Another one followed behind her. A man stepped out of the Dark Horse office to take a look. Soon they were around me and they all had literature. They were Dark Horse candidates. I was in the middle of a reverse feeding frenzy; candidates converging on the press.

The first woman proffered her bumpersticker: Killeen-Cuomo. She said she was Killeen. I said, "Why Cuomo?" She said, "Because he's my running mate. We don't want another Dan Quayle in there, do we?" The other woman was running as a Republican. She handed me her 27-page platform and a handbill. Her slogan had a certain kick: "Your Viable Choice to the Slimey Politicians."

"But we've got a candidate in here from Texas," she said. "He just got in last night. Why don't you come in and interview him?"

Inside Dark Horse headquarters, they introduced me to the man just in from Texas. Rufus Higginbotham, from Dallas. "I ran for mayor the other day," he said, by way of introduction. "You know the Reverend Criswell:" I said sure I did. "Well, I'm with him." With him in spirit. And probably with him in peculiar political views. I didn't foresee an extended interview.

But anyway, here was Rev. Higginbotham with a table of his own, in the midst of a dozen other tables set up by so-called minor candidates. Rev. H. said he wasn't enamored of the sign I stopped to take a picture of. He didn't like to be called a Dark Horse. "If you call yourself that, people will think that's what y'are." Uh-huh. "I'll tell you what I am," he said. "I'm the next resident of the White House."

When the Rev. H. said, "I'll tell you what I am," and paused for a brief dramatic breath, geography melted away for a moment. What you could see was the Dallas glint in his eye. He gave his Texas preacher look -- amiable and steely at the same time. Had the temperature gone up a few degrees? Had the sun come out? No, it was still dreary outside. And Rufus Higginbotham was a long way from home.

What makes a man or woman go down to the print shop, order up a few hundred flyers, and declare himself or herself a candidate for the Presidency of the United States?

Psychologists sometimes break motivations down into three categories: need for achievement (n-ach), need for power (n-pow), and need for affiliation (n-aff). But psychologists have probably not sufficiently studied Dark Horse Presidential candidates. These are not people with high n-ach, or n-pow because they never win ach or pow. Their campaigns are lonely and solitary, suggesting low n-aff. So we need for them a new motivational category. It might be this: need for just one or two mentions in the press (n-j1,2,mitp). The true Dark Horse candidate will travel thousands of miles, motivated by n-j1,2,mitp. What is amazing in modern society is how many mean, indifferent reporters will not satisfy the needs of so-called minor candidates. Or, those who will, perversely, mention the candidate in a negative or demeaning way.

Buried in the middle of Georgiana (Your Viable Choice to the Slimey Politicians) Doerschuck's 27-page platform was this cryptic reference to the heartbreak of bad press: "Here is hoping I will get a big write-in vote, as the only publicity of any account was bad publicity, in the Palm Beach Post." Caroline Killeen (Killeen-Cuomo ticket) experienced it, too. An excerpt from her political resume: "1984: 'Bad Press' in N.H. forced Caroline to abort her campaign for President. She headed for Canada."

Only a temporary setback in her case. This year she polled 93 votes statewide. Doerschuck was the viable choice of 57 voters. Higginbotham came in with 31. Low numbers, maybe. Still, it says here that they are running for President of the United States of America.

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