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Everyone for President

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Hillary Clinton has little in common with Lori Fleming, a woman living in a shack deep in the Ozarks. Except for this: both are devoted mothers, both have called Arkansas home, and both filed as Presidential candidates in the 2016 election.

Craig Tomashoff

"Ultimately, this book is not about politics; it’s about being yourself,” says Craig Tomashoff.

Fleming was one of more than 2000 Americans who ran for President in the current election despite having no money, no political experience, no name recognition, and no chance of winning. Journalist Craig Tomashoff (BA, Communication, 1982) wondered what motivated Fleming and other unlikely presidential hopefuls. He set out on a cross-country odyssey to find out, and shares his discoveries in The Can’t-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name.

Nearly 200 American citizens had filed as candidates by March 2015, still early in the presidential race. Tomashoff, a freelance producer/writer and former People magazine correspondent, contacted every one of them by mail, then spoke to about half by phone. He went on to interview 25 in person, featuring 15 in his book.

“The people that made it into the book — all with different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different religions — realistically knew there was no chance they were going to win the election,” says Tomashoff. “They just wanted to get their points out, to be heard. What better way to be listened to than by running for President?”

All of the candidates had faced difficulties in their lives. A Vietnam vet faced endless roadblocks while seeking medical treatment from the Veteran’s Administration. Fleming struggled to make ends meet while caring for her severely autistic 19-year-old son. She ran for President to call attention to the challenges faced by welfare mothers. 

Who is more patriotic than somebody who still believes in the system and tries to use it?

“The one thing all of these people have in common is that some bad thing happened in their lives and they saw this as a way to fix it,” says Tomashoff. “Running for president helped them in ways you would never expect, giving them purpose. That stood out to me when I started analyzing the interviews.”

Tomashoff spent about five hours with each presidential hopeful, interviewing them on their own turf. That meant traveling about 10,000 miles in three weeks, from Idaho to Arkansas, Massachusetts to Florida.  He met with candidates in their homes, walked with them down Main Street, and joined them for beer in their favorite haunts. 

Craig Tomashoff shares his book with a new friend.

"I believe that anyone who can take three weeks and drive around America and see what’s out there should do it,” says Craig Tomashoff, sharing his book with a new friend.

“The only way to really get to know anybody is spending a lengthy amount of time in an environment they are comfortable in, even if that means smoking cigars and drinking beer all night in a biker bar,” Tomashoff says, referencing a Hell’s Angel he interviewed in Boise. “You want that experience in order to convey who these people are. There is definitely a road trip aspect to the book — the chance to go out and see who is in this country. I believe that anyone who can take three weeks and drive around America and see what’s out there should do it.”

In his conversations, Tomashoff learned that some candidates had been disowned by their children, or suspended from work and put on psychiatric leave, simply for announcing they were running for President. Yet most were sincere in their quest, not driven by publicity. “I had two of them say, ‘Why are we looked at as the crazy ones? We’re doing what we’re legally allowed to do. You’re the crazy ones for not doing it,’” Tomashoff recalls. “A lot of them believe that, and they’ve got a point. Who is more patriotic than somebody who still believes in the system and tries to use it? These people had more belief in the country than most of us do, yet we look at them as lunatics.”

Just weeks after completing the interviews, Tomashoff watched his son graduate from high school. He hopes his son will find inspiration in his book, and — like the candidates — pursue his dreams regardless of what others think.

“All of us have, in the back of our mind, a crazy thing we think about doing,” Tomashoff says. “Maybe it’s running for President, or maybe it’s signing up for a dance class. But often we let the worry that people will think it’s crazy get in the way. These people didn’t let that stop them. They did their crazy thing by running for President, and I did mine by writing a book about them running for President. I hope my son will find the courage to do whatever his crazy thing is. That was the self-discovery I had all the way along. Ultimately, this book is not about politics; it’s about being yourself.”