BENNINGTON, N.H. -- A man can only leap into a blob of HD cameras so many times before he needs to flee southern New Hampshire. Late this morning I drove the Franklin Pierce Highway, a far-too-pleasant tribute to one of the worst men ever to occupy the White House, to catch Buddy Roemer at the headquarters of Turbo Cam. Thirty employees used their lunch break to meet the highest-polling candidate who's never made it into a televised debate.
Watch Roemer on the trail and you can't figure out why he's so obscure. (Who could have looked at the 2008 debates, watched Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo get their at-bats, and figure there'd be standards this year.) He moseys around a spacious break room, giving a few minutes to every employee, calling everyone "man." As in "Congress is charged with with signing trade deals. Negotiating so they're fair -- that's my job, man!"
Roemer's issues haven't changed since he entered the race last year. "I believe in fair trade," he tells the company's VP, Rob Bujeaud. "Free trade doesn't exist." The tax system needs to be replaced. "Flat tax! Clean! No lobbyin'!'" He's actually quite good and direct at framing the debt as a matter of national manhood.
"France sold the Louisiana purchase to pay off debts," he tells Dean Koufos, a lathe operator. "They lost their foothold in the New World. Debt shrinks a nation! We're already shrinking -- you can feel it! The space program! We're gettin' out of space!"
Every Roemer sentence ends with an explanation point. He takes the floor and boasts about how far he's gotten in New Hampshire. "They took a poll, and I was ahead of Rick Perry and three other guys. I said, yessss!" He pumps his fist. "I haven't spend a penny. They've spent millions! I like this campaign where every month there's a new leader. Michele Bachmann! Real nice lady. Rick Perry. Couldn't be beat! Seems like a real nice guy. And now -- I'm leavin' 'em out."
"Newt Gingrich," suggests one employee.
"Oh yes, Newt!"
"Herman Cain! Now it's Rick Santorum! It'll pass. They don't have a president! There's nobody running who doesn't have a PAC. There's nobody who's free to lead!"
The exclamation points are interspersed with admissions of human weakness. Making a point about health care, he pulls back his blazer and reveals a tracking device. "I've been insulin dependent for 40 years. I understand health care." He bemoans how stupid the presidential field has become. "I go home and cry some nights. It's just tough."
Talk like this -- actually, being a candidate like this -- tends to draw friendly questions. An employee asks Roemer if he'll make the Saturday evening debate, because the collapsing Perry doesn't fulfill the qualifications, and Michele Bachmann had dropped out.
"I sent 'em a picture of myself. I said, 5'8'' with shoes on. I'll fit right close to anyone who drops out. Haven't heard back."