Ohioan on quixotic third-party quest for president
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The presidential candidate nobody recognizes and his equally obscure running mate stopped a young registered voter on a downtown sidewalk to ask whether he had voted yet.
No, he said, his face showing confusion.
“Then maybe you'll consider voting for me for president,” said Richard Duncan, 59, a retired postal worker from Aurora, Ohio.
“President of what?” asked Lawrence Royster, 19.
Duncan handed him his business card: Richard Duncan for 2012 U.S. President. Non-Party Candidate. 12th in Nation in 2008 Presidential Election. Certified for votes in over 20 U.S. states.
Like others across the country, Duncan is running for president, even though he has zero chance of winning.
He spent 3 1⁄2 years collecting 5,000 signatures to get his name on the Ohio ballot. He completed paperwork and paid fees to become an official write-in candidate in 25 other states. He spent the past several months and $5,000 campaigning in malls and at sporting events.
“When I campaign, I hear people all the time say, ‘I don't like any of these candidates,'” Duncan said. “The two-party system is dysfunctional; it doesn't benefit the people of this country. My goal is to benefit the people of our country.
“Every year we're gaining in strength. Eventually there will be a strong third party. That's what people want.”
Rarely do third-party candidates amount to anything more than a curiosity. Only Ralph Nader and Ross Perot garnered enough support to impact the outcome, and they succeeded only in siphoning votes from mainstream candidates, analysts said.
“From time to time, third-party candidates do have limited impact,” said Gerald Shuster, political communications professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “But do they enhance the possibility of developing a third party and having it attain high-profile and meaningful status? Not likely in our lifetime.”
Even during times of voter disenchantment — such as now, Shuster said — fringe parties lack staying power. Too often they become stuck on an issue rather than a platform, he said, and voters fear wasting a vote on a non-Democrat or non-Republican candidate.
“It's been attempted so many times,” Shuster said. “The Green Party, Libertarians, now the Tea Party — they've never managed to generate a significant foothold. They might be able to impact a single election, but they're not going to stand toe-to-toe with a Republican or Democratic candidate.”
Duncan and running mate Ricky Johnson, a preacher from Sharon in Mercer County, believe their campaign is important.
Many members of Johnson's church don't support President Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney but feel a civic duty to vote. The Duncan/Johnson ticket, emphasizing job creation and religious faith, allows people to participate without compromising their values, Johnson said.
“Why would I want to choose from the lesser of two evils when they are just two wings of the same bird?” Johnson asked. “When you vote for us, you're saying, ‘My vote is not going to help either one of them get in office.'”
Duncan ran for president in 2004 as a write-in candidate in Ohio. He got 17 votes. In 2008, he got on the Ohio ballot and won about 4,000 votes, he said.
This year, he navigated differing state requirements for write-ins and hopes to pick up more votes.
“We're slowly building,” Duncan said.
Some states require write-in candidates to file paperwork; others add fees and signature requirements. In states where candidates must apply, votes for non-official, write-in candidates do not count.
Pennsylvania has no regulations, allowing anyone as a write-in candidate.
The different rules result in varied state ballots. Pennsylvania, for example, lists four candidates for president: Obama, Romney, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Ohio has 13 candidates; West Virginians will select from five, with a write-in option.
Duncan hopes to pick up votes in Pennsylvania through his running mate. He campaigned last month at the Steelers-Bengals game in Cincinnati because “a lot of people from Kentucky were there, so maybe I'll get some votes there, too.”
When he shakes hands and directs voters to his website, some people laugh at him, Duncan said. Others scold him for potentially taking votes from their candidate.
In Youngstown, passers-by mostly appeared bewildered or curious.
“Really?” asked Dorian Brown, 39. “You're on the ballot?”
Brown said he would consider voting for Duncan. Romney won't help blue-collar workers, Brown said, and Obama's support of gay marriage is a deal-breaker.
“I don't have much interest in the political process right now,” Brown said. “I'll definitely think about voting for (Duncan).”
That's all Duncan wants.
“I've already calculated that I've won,” he said. “People get mad about the Republicans and Democrats. I don't want to get mad. I want to do something, and that's what I'm doing.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.