WASHINGTON – What do you call it when a pagan, a Christian and a fascist walk into a bar?
A presidential candidates' forum of Maryland also-rans.
From the former mayor of Cumberland who says God is his co-pilot to the pagan head of a fascist union in Elkton, the six 2008 presidential candidates from Maryland are an unusual bunch.
They are among the nearly 200 other candidates trailing the 18 top-tier contenders identified by Project Vote Smart, a political watchdog group. None of the major league contenders — which include Democrats Sen. Hillary R. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama and Republicans Rudy Guiliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney — appeared at the forum.
The Maryland candidates' names are not so well known. They are: Richard H. Clark of Gaithersburg, Jackson K. Grimes of Elkton, former Cumberland Mayor Frank K. Nethken, Lawrence A. Obern of Laurel, Freddy I. "Messiah" Sitnick of Baltimore and Corrogan R. Vaughn of Baltimore.
Obern and Sitnick could not be reached to discuss their candidacies.
"People run for president for attention," said Kathleen Kendall, a communications professor at the University of Maryland. Sometimes it is for personal attention, like the man who ran in a New Hampshire presidential primary as "Vermin Supreme," or the man who campaigned with a boot on his head in a Washington, D.C., primary. Other times it is to call attention to their cause.
Former Cumberland Mayor Frank K. Nethken's imprimatur can certainly grab attention.
"God wants me to be the 44th president of the United States," he said.
Nethken, 76, is simultaneously running for Congress in Maryland's 6th District against fellow Republican and incumbent, Roscoe Bartlett, just in case the president thing doesn't work out, he added.
As president, Nethken will "put God back in schools" and "save American soldiers by replacing them with immigrants," he said.
Nethken says God as his campaign manager. In His honor, his upcoming Web site will be called www.wethepeopleinjesus.org. He had called the White House to see if its former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove would run his campaign but he hasn't heard back yet, Nethken said.
Rove or no Rove, Nethken is already on the road campaigning.
"Oh my God, I just went through a red light," he yelled during a phone interview while driving back from Pennsylvania.
Nethken and God are campaigning alone for now. His wife of 22 years, Theresa, filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences.
He wants her back but said, "I could become the most eligible bachelor in the U.S."
Independent Richard H. Clark of Gaithersburg keeps his religious affiliation a secret. Clark, 47, is a software engineer by day and a presidential candidate by night.
Politics is much like computer systems, he said. Both demand perfection and an understanding of how all parts are affected. And a president, like a software engineer, has to orchestrate solutions to problems.
"There's no question that I can do a good job," said Clark, a member of Mensa, an organization for geniuses.
Government is Clark's biggest problem, and he is not alone. According to an August Gallup Poll, just 32 percent of Americans approve of the job the president is doing and only 18 percent approve of the job Congress is doing.
"The greed and corruption in government reached my breaking point," said Clark, an independent candidate. "The (Iraq) war was started purely for oil and to make money for the defense industry."
His campaign strategy is to reach a critical mass of 1,000 active volunteers to trigger a snowball effect of support, Clark said. Right now, his handful of backers are online political junkies who post comments on www.usatoday.com, the Web site of the national newspaper, USA Today.
By contrast, Thompson, actor and former senator, who recently jumped into the GOP pool, already has more than 14,000 Facebook supporters, according to TechPresident, a blog that monitors candidates' online activity.
Clark's virtual campaign is centered on his Web site, www.middleclass2008.com. He has raised $500 in total contributions, including his own money. He doesn't need millions of dollars, Clark said. The Internet empowers everyone.
The Internet has opened the field, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. But it is not a good mechanism to get political support. "(Former presidential candidate) Howard Dean had lots of support in the polls, but it was spread an inch thick across the country," he said.
Corrogan R. Vaughn, 41, of Baltimore is not just relying in the Internet. He has someone other than God for a campaign manager — Braynard Werner, a retired Army major in Texas — and is putting his limousine service business on hold to campaign across the country by car.
As of June 30, Vaughn reported $1,031 raised and $1,000 spent. His campaign is collecting online donations at www.vaughn4america.com, although most of the money still comes from Vaughn's own pocket, Werner said.
Vaughn is also an experienced campaigner. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Maryland in 2006 against fellow Republican, Michael Steele. For that contest he raised $1,100 and received 1.2 percent of the vote in the primary.
This campaign is much different, Werner said, in that it is reaching out to a Christian-conservative constituency that was difficult to find in Maryland.
"It is a large voting block."
Vaughn, the son of a Baptist minister, plans to follow a conservative Republican agenda and instill Christian values in the presidency, Werner said.
Christian values won't be an issue in the campaign of Jackson K. Grimes, 57, of Elkton. He is a pagan.
If he wins, Grimes hopes to bring economic equality through a fascist government. He is head of the United Fascist Union.
Grimes has been attracted to the ideology since he was a 17-year-old drama student in New York. After graduation, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam, which left him crippled in one leg.
Grimes lived off his military stipend until the union appointed him in 1996 as its director and chief executive officer. It is now his family, home and office. A framed photo of Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein hang above his desk.
Grimes made his first run in the 2000 election and never stopped. His campaign Web site is joanne21921.tripod.com/speeches. He has nine volunteers and has raised a few thousand dollars from individuals, he said. He is asking business owners to donate.
"With the help of the gods of Olympus we will win."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.