Free Buddy Roemer!

Free Buddy Roemer!

By Carl M. Cannon - January 21, 2012

As two presidential debates took place this week in South Carolina, the number of participants dwindled ahead of each one. Jon Huntsman quit the race Monday, throwing his support to Mitt Romney, and winnowing the field to five. The morning of Thursday's debate, Rick Perry tossed in the towel -- he promptly endorsed Newt Gingrich -- leaving only four lecterns on stage.

These comings and goings are particularly vexing to one Republican presidential candidate, Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer. A former four-term congressman and former Louisiana governor , Roemer soldiers on despite miniscule poll numbers -- a weak showing he attributes to the refusal of the debate sponsors to let him participate. On Thursday night, he was denied entry again, which means that Roemer has now been passed over for all 20 GOP debates.

Is this fair?

Roemer certainly doesn’t believe so. “It’s corrupt, man,” he told RCP. “To fix this country, you need experience running a state and you need experience in Washington -- and I’m the only one in the field who has both. And they won’t let me debate. Not one single time.”

He has a point, a particular crew of well-regarded political advisers can corroborate. Six months ago, most of Newt Gingrich’s team, including seasoned operatives Dave Carney, Sam Dawson, and Rob Johnson, quit en masse because they didn’t believe Gingrich was serious about putting together a first-rate campaign effort. Gingrich insisted to his aides that the rules of campaigning had changed -- and that he would force his way into the top tier of candidates with his debate performances. They didn’t believe that plan could succeed, and went to work for another old client, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

On Thursday morning, Carney, Dawson, and Johnson were forced to endure the experience of watching their current candidate quit the race while throwing what little support he had managed to muster to their old candidate.

There’s no assurance Buddy Roemer would have duplicated Gingrich’s commanding performance in any of the debates. But then again, anyone who watches one of these sessions on television with Roemer, which I did in New Hampshire, is hard-pressed to come up with a reason he wouldn’t have made his mark.

Yes, Roemer dutifully watches all the debates he isn’t invited to -- this week he did so from his home in Baton Rouge -- and it is not a passive pursuit. Roemer paces the room as he shouts his rebuttals to the television, barking out brief responses to the moderators and verbally tweaking the other contenders. A young aide who asks only to be identified by her first name (Jill), dutifully records Roemer’s unplugged observations and posts them on Twitter. This is the closest Roemer can come to debating his GOP rivals.

The candidate -- most people just call him Buddy -- has been running since spring of 2011, but when the campaign left New Hampshire for the looming showdowns in South Carolina and Florida, Roemer didn’t go with it. He plans to make his next stand in Michigan, which holds a primary Feb. 28. South Carolina votes on Saturday, but as it happens, the Palmetto State charges candidates $35,000 to file the paperwork to run for president. The Roemer campaign doesn’t have that kind of money, let alone the millions it takes to compete on the airways in the mega-state of Florida.

This is Roemer’s own choice, or at least he believes it is. He has refused to accept special interest money of any kind, and installed a self-imposed ceiling on individual contributions of $100. He says he’s trying making a point about money and politics. The question is whether Americans will ever get to hear it, which forms the essential paradox of Buddy Roemer’s presidential campaign.

Without money, Roemer can’t run many television ads, or even hire much of a staff, and because he can’t get publicity or build up his name identification outside of his native state, he can’t rise in the public opinion polls. Because he doesn’t rise in the polls, the news organizations that have sponsored the 20 GOP debates haven’t let Roemer participate.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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