EASTON — Whether it is President Donald Trump’s case of the coronavirus or his controversial Twitter posts or Joe Biden’s non-answers on packing the Supreme Court or spending much of his campaign time hunkered down in Delaware, the 2020 election is like no other.
But when voters across the Eastern Shore, Maryland and country fill out ballots they will have more choices than Trump and Biden.
There are 21 other candidates on Maryland’s presidential ballot. While the Libertarian Party’s Jo Jorgensen and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins might grab a few voters most of the other ‘third-party’ and alternative candidates are in the races to highlight a certain agenda or to just cross a run for U.S. president off of their bucket lists.
Those running for president include an artist, a father of ten, grandmother, an investment manager and a candidate name President R19 Boddie. Kanye West is also running an independent campaign for president though he failed to make the Maryland presidential ballot.
While skeptics dismiss the runs as an ultimate Don Quixote quest or a potential spoiler to Biden beating Trump, the candidates say voters need alternatives.
“The people need to know they have more choices, than the two political parties,” said Deborah Rouse, a grandmother from Athens, Tennessee.
Rouse is on the Maryland presidential ballot. She said her Christian faith prompted her run. “I have no political background. Just helping people, doing what is just, and fair,” Rouse said. “In 2016 I was praying for friends and loved ones to prosper. As I was praying, I said to the Lord, ‘I am too old to make a difference.’ All of the sudden I felt a leap in my heart, and this amazing joy, and it was like the Lord telling me to run for President. I turned and said to my husband Russell, I know what I am going to do, he said, ‘what?’ I said, ‘run for President’ He said, ‘OK.’”
Rouse favors “health insurance for all Americans at no cost”, opposes gun control and supports criminal justice reforms and taking better care of seniors.”
Other down- ballot presidential candidates are closer to home.
Jerome Segal is from Takoma Park and is running under the Bread and Roses party banner. He ran against U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in the Democratic primary in 2018. Segal has been sending campaign emails and literature to Maryland voters including on the Eastern Shore. His focus is reimagining the American Dream from a pursuit of affluence to one more focused on quality of life and equality. That includes a guaranteed basic income and a 20-hour work week.
Libertarian, Green and other non-traditional candidates grabbed more than 160,300 of Maryland’s 2.78 million total votes in 2016. That translated into 5.76% of the total vote.
While heavily Democratic Maryland and the conservative Eastern Shore are not battlegrounds between Biden and Trump, a few of the alternative candidates are even putting a focus on the state and Shore.
And this goes beyond presidential wild card Kanye West’s visit to Oxford in September, West is not on the Maryland ballot but his faith-based candidacy on the presidential ballot in a dozen states and just released a new campaign ad. West could grab some write-in votes because of his celebrity and focus on faith.
Malcolm Jarrett, who is the vice presidential for the Socialist Workers Party, was in Easton and Mid-Shore earlier this month to talk to workers about housing, jobs and racial justice issues. Jarrett is an activist and has worked as a cook for a catering company in Pittsburgh.
Jarrett is and running mate Alyson Kennedy are not on the Maryland ballot but hope to highlight issues for workers and are not any illusions of victory in November.
“I know I’m not going to be vice president,” Jarrett said sitting outside of Rise Up Coffee in Easton. But he hoped to engage with and mobilize workers — including at Delmarva’s seafood processing plants and poultry farms. He hopes to see more workplaces unionize and for the growth of a true labor party in the U.S. as an alternative to the two-party system.
“This campaign is about helping working people,” he said.
Susan B Lochocki, a New York artist running for president, is on the Maryland ballot and also campaigned in the state recently. “I campaign online mostly and I was in Maryland twice this past month at truck stops and grocery stores,” she said.
Lochocki wants to highlight women’s rights and gender inequities. She also stress the fact the U.S. has never had a woman president and she wants to be the first.
“I started running because I’m a peace promoter, and I needed a job that pays money,” she said. “My husband was complaining because I was creating artworks that revolves around the idea of uniting people and promoting peace and nobody was buying them so that is the real reason why.”
Other presidential candidates also want to highlight certain issues or agenda items.
Randall Foltyniewicz, who describes himself as a “former businessman turned into an activist visionary”, supports a $50,000 basic universal income for all Americans, reparations to Native Americans and African Americans, legalizing all drugs and prostitution and disarming the police. “After realizing how horrible the country, military and police are, I decided to run,” said Foltyniewicz
Jarrett does not see material differences between Biden and Trump, Democrats and Republicans.
He also dismisses criticism that third-party and write-in candidates only serve as spoilers. Democrats complained about Green Party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016 costing Al Gore and Hillary Clinton presidential battlegrounds.
In Pennsylvania, for example, Trump beat Clinton by 44,292 votes in 2016. Third-party candidates garnered more than 218,200 votes but with most of them going to Libertarian Gary Johnson. Trump beat Clinton by 10,704 votes in Michigan. Third-party and other candidates grabbed more than 250,900 votes in Michigan four years ago.
“We’re not spoiling anything. We are providing options to working people,” Jarrett said outside the Easton coffee shop.
Across the political spectrum, independent and other candidates also argue a need for alternatives to Biden and Trump.
“I’m running for president because, once again, I didn’t see any of the prospective candidates addressing the fundamental things I consider to be essential to the preservation of our republic,” said Tom Hoefling, a father of ten and conservative writer and activist from Iowa who once served as national political director for Maryland conservative Alan Keyes. “Things like the eroding moral basis of our system of government, the continued lack of protection of the supreme unalienable right of our unborn posterity, the lack of restraints on our out-of-control judicial branch, and the utter failure of our elected representatives to stay within the enumerated bounds of our Constitution.”
Shawn Howard, a Florida investment manager and former chief financial officer for a bank, said he is running to offer a centrist alternative to the current partisan bickering in Washington. “The issues most important to me are term limits, small government and individual responsibility. I would also like to bring more troops home and limit the scope of our foreign involvements,” Howard said.
Segal said his Bread and Roses campaign is not running in swing states to avoid spoiler status and he wants voters to support Biden.
But in Maryland, he wants voters to be more open-minded with Biden favored to win easily. “In Maryland, you can safely vote against Trump by voting Bread and Roses, should you share our values and vision.”
A poll released Oct. 8 by Goucher College gives Biden a 61% to 30% lead over Trump with Jorgensen and Hawkins each getting 2%. A few percentage points might matter in Florida, Arizona or Pennsylvania but it doesn’t in Maryland.
Most of the down ballot presidential candidates do not have the financial resources or campaign fundraising to make many campaign stops. Others have limited their in-person campaigning because of the coronavirus.
Social media has helped some wild-card candidates get their name and message out more. President R19 Boddie, for example, has a YouTube channel promoting a cure for cancer and urging voters to think about other alternatives to Trump other than Biden. “If you make that mistake and vote for Joe, we are all going to be disappointed Nov. 3,” the Georgia independent said.
Despite the insurmountable odds, many of the candidates see their efforts as lifting up others.
“Ultimately my platform is about human potential and bringing the best out in everyone,” Lochocki said.
Rouse said her unlikely White House run shows what everyday people can do.
“I am a normal person, and have done all the work ourselves. I had no clue, that a normal person could run for president,” she said.