Another outsider is running on the Democratic side in presidential race
February 29, 2016 8:14 AM
Democratic presidential candidate Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente.
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even in a season of political outsiders, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente has an unusual resume for someone hoping to lead the free world. He hasn’t even starred in a reality TV show, for heaven’s sake.
Yet he’s eligible to appear on Pennsylvania’s April 26 primary ballot, having been one of nine presidential candidates to file petitions with at least 2,000 signatures last week. He’s running as a Democrat, but touting his bipartisan appeal.
“Republicans want Hispanics and a businessman,” Mr. De La Fuente said of GOP frontrunners Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump. “Well, that’s who I am.”
A 61-year-old San Diego native, Mr. De La Fuente built up a network of car dealerships, later becoming a real estate developer. And when it comes to brashness, he may trump even Mr. Trump himself.
“Any success he has, in anything he’s done in any business — I have done it better,” he said of the Republican front-runner. And like Mr. Trump, Mr. De La Fuente isn’t shy about pursuing his interests in court: Last fall, he garnered a $25 million settlement in a two-decade development dispute with the city of San Diego.
At the heart of Mr. De La Fuente’s campaign is a promise not to cash his $400,000 presidential paycheck until he achieves four lofty goals: reducing homelessness by half, constructing 100 city parks, creating 1 million new jobs, and devising “a logical and smart immigration policy.”
“That last one will be the biggie,” he acknowledged. “The first three I’ll do no problem.” But Mr. De La Fuente said immigrants, including those without documentation, “are assets, not liabilities. They can help us grow economically.”
He predicted that “with a little bit of media,” he could win Pennsylvania’s primary, besting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with 44 percent of the vote.
On the surface, there may seem little cause for such optimism. Beneath the surface, too. Campaign finance records suggest that Mr. De La Fuente had raised just $15,260 by the end of January. He has struggled to appear on the ballot in other states, and in New Hampshire’s primary, he garnered just 95 votes. That trailed not only Mr. Sanders and Ms. Clinton, but Vermin Supreme — a novelty candidate best known for promising every American a pony — and even former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
In Pennsylvania, unlikely candidates have appeared on the ballot before. The 2000 primary, for example, featured Republican Gary Bauer and Democrat Lyndon Larouche. Both men drew single-digit support, but “if you can be a protest vote on an issue, that can be very helpful,” said Robert Morris University political science professor Phil Harold. ”And it’s not a coronation on the Democratic side yet.”
For now, Mr. De La Fuente’s campaign faces a challenge just being taken as seriously as, say, that of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Polls are unlikely to mention him, for example, even if pollsters agree that in a year of outsiders, it’s not always easy to explain why they leave a candidate out.
“What is serious in this day and age?” said Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick. “Serious is if people pay attention to it.”
Mr. Borick said that since the field in both parties already includes outside candidates like Mr. Trump, “I don’t see an easy space for [Mr. De La Fuente] to fill.” Still, he admitted, “I didn’t see Trump coming, I downplayed Sanders. If I’m wrong on this, it’s time to do something else, like become a fishing guide.”
“If we had Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King running, I would have stayed at home,” said Mr. De La Fuente. But like a more famous Rocky — the Philly boxer played by Sylvester Stallone — he promises to be a scrapper. “I’ve been to Philadelphia already,” he said. “I’ve run up and down those stairs.”
Chris Potter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.
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