We have a Trump, Clinton and Bush in the current presidential campaign and there’s no doubt most everyone knows their names. But what if your name is Harley Brown of Boise, Idaho or you live in a shack in the Arkansas Ozarks? Chances are you ended up in a new book called “The Can’t-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name.”
University of Washington alum and 30-year journalist Craig Tomashoff became fascinated with the stories of Americans who make a go at the White House despite impossible odds.
“There’s really only two things you need to have in order to run for President and that’s be over 35 and have been born here and all you have to do to file is go to the Federal Election Commission website,” Tomashoff said.
He spent a month last year traveling 10,000 miles to meet the “Can’t-idates” who had filed at that time.
“I wrote a letter to all 193 of those people and I heard back from probably about a hundred,” Tomashoff said. “Ended up talking to about 83 people, I think, many of whom were crazy. Fifteen of whom were not, who had these fascinating, compelling, personal reasons to run for President that really have nothing to do with being President.”
Those 15 people made it into his new book. One of his favorite interviews is Harley Brown of Boise, Idaho, who has run for some form of office for the last 20 years. He’s a member of a very notorious biker gang.
“Harley Brown really stands out,” Tomashoff said. “The 61-year-old Hell’s Angel in Boise who took me out for beer and cigars at his favorite biker bar, which was quite fun. Harley’s actually a really good case of someone who just wants to be heard.”
You may remember Harley from the 2014 Idaho Gubernatorial debate. He made some headlines because he actually got to debate the current Governor Butch Otter in a televised event. Harley wasn’t in a suit and tie. He wore his leathers with cigars sticking out of his front pocket instead and explained God came to him as he was driving a Taxi and told him he was meant to be President.
“There’s this tendency we all have to say ‘okay these people are nuts, why should I even listen to them’ but they’re not … well, they’ve got a few things going on but they’re not crazy they’re just people who just cling to that notion that every major politician, every Trump, every Bush, every Hillary Clinton always says ‘I’m a regular person just like you guys’ they all spend their time trying to be what these people actually are,” Tomashoff said.
Finding the heart in Americans who run for an impossible office became the theme of Tomashoff’s book. Yes, there were those “Can’t-idates” who could be put into a box some might call “crazy” — like the one who wants Michael Jackson as his VP — but Tomashoff said a number of these individuals have valid reasons for why they’re running for President.
He remembers Joshua Usera of Rapid City, South Dakota.
“He was arrested for DUI several times, he got into some public fights and now he’s trying to redeem himself, he has a 9-year-old son, and he kind of wants to prove to him that he’s worth something after all and he chose to prove that by running for President,” Tomashoff said.
One of his favorite “Can’t-idates” lives in the Arkansas Ozarks.
“Lives in a shack like literally the size of most people’s closets, has an 18-year-old son who is severely autistic and has the mentality of a 5-year-old, and she decided to run because she can’t work because her son needs full time care and when he turned 18 she lost her government assistance for him,” Tomashoff said.
He said despite the impossible odds of even getting a write-in on the ballot for President, she would bake cookies at a friend’s house and knock on doors in her town of 1,000 to bring awareness to her issue.
After 10,000 miles and dozens of interviews, Tomashoff said he had a new perspective on the presidential race.
“I started out like a lot of people just thinking ‘hey I’m going to go meet kind of goofy people’ and they were kind of goofy but kind of sweet and they all still had a point,” Tomashoff said. “What changed for me was every big name politician you know constantly … we have billionaire Donald Trump trying to convince us that he’s just one of us — just a regular guy — and once you actually get out and see real people the foolishness of all the big name candidates who talk about understanding what mainstream wants … it’s crazy.”