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February 25, 2014 4:20 PM Hardy Perennials

By Ed Kilgore

In a post on Texas today, Slate’s Dave Weigel talks about the bane of perennial and/or bizarre candidates winning low-turnout primaries, mostly of the Democratic variety, in reporting on a new statewide poll:

Obviously, [Democrats] should be disappointed that Wendy Davis is down by 11 points in an early test against Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott. But their race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Cornyn is far sadder.
“In the Democratic primary, the candidate who has been on the ballot the most times, Kesha Rogers, leads the best-financed candidate, David Alameel, 35 percent to 27 percent. Maxey Scherr had 15 percent, followed by Harry Kim at 14 percent and Michael Fjetland at 9 percent.”
One reason Rogers has “been on the ballot the most times” is that she’s a Lyndon LaRouche cultist who constantly runs for office. In 2010 she managed to win the party’s nomination in the old Tom DeLay seat, TX-22, a primary that doesn’t draw many Democratic voters. “After we impeach Obama,” Rogers promised in 2010, “we are going to implement the LaRouche Plan, beginning with a global Glass-Steagall, and full-funding for a Moon-Mars mission.” In 2012 the Democrats attempted to inform voters of just how insane Rogers was. They failed—she won another primary, by 103 votes.
In 2014 she gave the Democrats of TX-22 a break and ran for Senate. Democrats, who put up credible candidates against Cornyn in 2002 and 2008, settled this time for a dentist and philanthropist named David Alameel. Wendy Davis has endorsed him. Newspapers have endorsed him. And at the very best, he’s going to be in a runoff with a LaRouche maniac.
This is, sadly, not a new problem for Texas Democrats. For more than 20 years, the party had to fend off a strange and private man named Gene Kelly, who ran for House seats, Supreme Court seats, Senate seats, and more. He counted on low-information voters showing up and casting a ballot for him, because there was also a famous dancer with the name “Gene Kelly.” Once, he was proved right: He was the 2000 nominee for U.S. Senate, sharing a ballot with Al Gore. It took the infamy of that campaign and a spirited 2006 runoff to stop Kelly—and the guy almost forced a runoff in 2008 anyway.

This is not a problem confined to Texas, of course. One of the most famous modern examples of horrendous candidates winning low-visibility primaries also involved the LaRouchies: in 1986 in Illinois, two LaRouche candidates won the Democratic nominations for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. Gubernatorial candidate Adlai Stevenson III wound up having to create a separate pop-up party and urge Democrats to split their tickets. He badly lost what was a very promising election for Democrats.

More recently, a South Carolina Democratic Senate primary rejected a state legislator in favor of an unemployed man named Alvin Greene who refused to run any sort of campaign (understandably persistent suspicions that Republicans had supplied Greene’s filing fee were never documented). Greene’s big advantage was having the top ballot line thanks to his name beginning with an earlier letter in the alphabet. And so Jim DeMint didn’t have to lift a finger to be re-elected.

But the most annoying primary “accidents” are often created by perennial candidates who eventually get a lot of votes through sheer name ID. Back in Georgia there was a dude named Wyman C. Lowe who ran for something—usually Congress—every two years. His particular gambit was to leave his signs up perpetually, sometimes just adding a strip changing the office he was running for (the state finally forced him to take them down). In 1970, in his eighth race for Congress, he actually made a runoff against Andrew Young. We had another perennial candidate named Nick Belluso who wound up changing his name to Nick-Reagan Belluso in 1982.

Dealing with the occasional accidental candidate is a small price, I suppose, for relatively open ballot access laws. But it sure doesn’t feel that way if your own party gets hit with one of these bolts of lightning.

Feel free to share you own stories—I’m sure they exist all over the country—of unknowns or hardy perennials winning or nearly winning primaries, in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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