In democracy's annals, a noble thread of tradition links those ordinary Americans who have stepped forward from daily life to serve their fellow citizens and embody hopes of a brighter future. George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln. Harry S. Truman. Bubba the Love Sponge (search).
You heard right. The nasty-boy Florida deejay — a guy who specialized in radio shows that included on-air sex talk by George Jetson and Scooby-Doo — is doing what comes naturally to so many Americans. He's seeking public office.
There's an election in this country on Tuesday, and in a land where the race for the highest office is the biggest saga of all, an array of oddities — bits of jetsam that wash up on the banks of the American electoral river — are, as usual, providing useful distraction.
In Indiana, it's now or never for Bruce Borders (search), an Elvis impersonator who wants a seat in his state's General Assembly — and is trying to get it for the second time. South Carolina voters can abolish those little airline-style bottles of liquor that state law requires anyone who serves drinks to use. In Berkeley, Calif., voters can decide whether police should make prostitution arrests their lowest priority.
But wait — there's more. With the 2004 elections, you also get:
—A teenager who arrived in the world during Ronald Reagan's second term trying to became agriculture commissioner in West Virginia — and end the political career of an incumbent who's held office twice as long as the challenger has been alive.
—Democrats in Camden County, N.J., having to troll for their candidates this year. They sent postcards to about 500 citizens saying they'd make great local officeholders. Ninety-seven sent in resumes, and now one — Carmen Rodriguez — is on the ballot for freeholder.
—A woman born when William Howard Taft (search) was president — and before members of her gender could legally vote — wanting to be a U.S. senator from New Hampshire. She takes pains to make it clear: She isn't your cookies-and-milk, cross-stitch-making parlor grandmother.
"I am not a nice old lady," says nonagenarian Doris "Granny D" Haddock, an antiwar candidate whose Web site — http://www.grannyd.com — shows her in a bonnet. It also offers this challenge: "If you have had it with politics as usual, there is no stronger statement you can make than to vote for a 94-year-old woman."
The I-gotta-be-me mentality is nothing new in the American political pantheon, where delegates from Wisconsin wear hats shaped like cheese wedges at national conventions and, in 1952, a siren in pearls and black dress went on TV and sang a torch ballad about the Democratic presidential candidate that rhymed "Adlai" with "I love you madly."
Bubba the Love Sponge's rhymes have been of a different ilk. The erstwhile Tampa shock jock, whose real name was Todd Clem before he legally changed it to Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, was fired after he was sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission for on-air ribaldry.
Now he's running for sheriff in Pinellas County, a retirement haven, and his candidacy doesn't appear to be a gag: He's criticized the sheriff's office on the air for years and has a plan to raise salaries and promote women and minorities.
"You certainly know who I am," Bubba/Clem, 38, said after a recent speech. "Now I just have to convince you that I can be the person you may not know."
Counters his Republican opponent, Chief Deputy Jim Coats: "I don't think he's sheriff material."
West Virginia's ag-commissioner candidate, Republican Andrew Yost, is barely a year out of high school and facing a 77-year-old political veteran, Democrat Gus Douglass, who's gunning for a record 10th term.
While the May-December race is competitive, it hasn't exactly gotten ugly. "A fine young man," Douglass pronounced Yost after the two met at a poultry festival.
Yost seems to realize what he's getting into. "Sometimes I sit back and think, `Wow, this is really serious,"' he says. "But then I think, `I'll apply myself and do the best."'
In Indiana, a former small-town mayor named Bruce Borders is running on a conservative values platform. Something else, though, distinguishes him from his opponent, Democrat Alan Chowning, who beat him by 289 votes last time: Borders is an Elvis impersonator. Lately, he's even begun to sound like one.
"We worked like dogs last time," he said, "and we're working like bigger dogs this time."
Finally, we go to Tacoma, Wash., for a glimpse at the state auditor race.
The Republican candidate, Will Baker, a self-proclaimed "vigilante activist" and conspiracy theorist who sells flowers along the roadside for a living, has been arrested 19 times for disrupting city and county council meetings. Seems he doesn't like to stop talking.
State Republican leaders unwittingly put Baker on the ballot at the last minute, grateful that someone had volunteered to run. He got nearly 400,000 votes in the primary.
"It was incredibly embarrassing," said Republican activist Richard Pope, who tried to get Baker removed from the ballot.
In a recent mass e-mail, Baker quoted an unusual source — the theme from "Shaft" — to describe himself: "The cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about."
And in the end, isn't that really what all American candidates are trying to say?