The debate calendar has included as many as 22 candidates in the 2016 cycle. But on Tuesday night, another 23 got their moment in the spotlight, debating each other at the “Lesser-Known Candidate Forum” at St. Anselm College in Manchester.
The debate, which was carried live by C-SPAN, has been in place since 1972, serving to highlight the dozens of fringe candidates that run alongside more well-known politicians. In New Hampshire alone, where it only takes a $1,000 and a few signatures to enter a party’s primary, the ballot will include 28 Democrats and 30 Republicans.
One of those Democrats is Lloyd Kelso, a family law attorney from Gastonia, North Carolina, who has argued for repealing the Affordable Care Act. The dismantling of President Obama’s signature healthcare law did not seem to worry him about his chances of securing the Democratic nomination.
“I’m in it to win it,” he told ABC News. “We’ve got to assess where we are after New Hampshire. We have signs up all over. If we do well here, we’re going to push forward and see about getting on more debate stages.”
Other candidates, like Eric Elbot of Massachusetts, admitted they weren’t expecting to occupy the White House anytime soon, but hoped to raise a particular point that their better-known counterparts haven’t brought to the table.
“What I’d like to share with you is a solution that I see and have not heard in this campaign,” said Elbot, a CEO and consultant from Massachusetts. “My suggestion is that we re-draw the map of the Middle East, so that we create Sunni countries and Shia countries. That would allow democracy to take hold.”
Other candidates called for raising the minimum wage to $22 dollars per hour, unilaterally disarming the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and even detaining Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. New York hopeful Jon Adams spent part of his closing statement holding a moment of silence for Glenn Frey, the recently deceased guitarist for The Eagles.
“Thank you,” he said after a brief pause, eyeing the other 17 Democrats on stage. “My time is short.”
Besides the 22 candidates who have appeared in nationally televised debate, only one White House hopeful did not receive an invitation: Vermin Supreme, a performance artist known for wearing a boot on his head. Supreme was banned from the event four years ago, after dousing an opponent in glitter.
The “lesser-knowns” have long been championed by Secretary of State William Gardner, who has tenaciously defended the state’s first-in-the-nation status. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary.
“It’s an opportunity for every person on the New Hampshire ballot to be able to participate in a debate,” Gardner said, calling it “the primary for the little guy.”
The opportunity wasn’t lost on Elbot, who wore a red, white and blue shirt under his blazer.
“Everybody at St. Anselm, when you come to see me [at the White House], you get to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom!” he proclaimed.
“Actually,” he admitted, “I’m not important in this at all. It’s the ideas that matter.”