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Constitution Party Candidates Preach Conservative Message in Uphill Campaigns


This story initially incorrectly stated the amount of money that has been raised by 5th District congressional candidate Steven J. Krukar. According to an Oct. 23 filing with the Federal Election Commission, Krukar had raised $6,400 for his campaign and still had $1,400 on hand. The total has been corrected in this Web update.

By Samson Habte
Capital News Service
Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004; corrected Nov. 2, 2004

WASHINGTON - After a court ruling that eased ballot access for third parties, the Constitution Party heads into Tuesday's elections with three candidates on the Maryland ballot for the first time ever -- and a mission to save the country from ruin.

"The goal is more important than building a party -- it is about restoring America," said Steven J. Krukar, the Constitution Party nominee in the 5th District congressional race.

Neither Krukar, the party's Senate hopeful, Thomas M. Trump, nor party presidential nominee Michael A. Peroutka expects to win next week. But none of them intends to give up the fight, either.

Their message needs to be heard, Krukar said, because "the nation is going off a cliff, and I don't know if it can survive much longer." He and others said the goal is not electoral victory but voter education -- at least this year.

Most political observers said it is good that the Constitution Party candidates do not expect to win -- because it's not going to happen.

"Their agenda is not going to fly in Maryland -- it might fly in the Bible Belt, but Maryland is not the Bible Belt," said Blair Lee, a political columnist with the Gazette.

That agenda includes Constitution Party claims that most actions taken by the federal government -- everything from collecting income taxes to building roads -- are illegal and unconstitutional. Equally important is that voters understand that the founding fathers intended our laws to be crafted according to Judeo-Christian principles.

John Lofton, a spokesman for Peroutka's campaign, said that American presidents who vow to protect the Constitution are "lying to God" when they exceed their constitutional authority, and that has profound implications for the nation.

"That's why you see planes crashing into buildings, because they're lying to God and we are under God's judgment," Lofton said.

Peroutka, a Millersville lawyer, was nominated at a party convention in June while Krukar and Trump were recruited by the state party after a 2003 court ruling that lifted cumbersome petition requirements for third-party candidates to get on the ballot.

Under the old system, candidates had to collect thousands of signatures to get on the ballot. Under the new rules, once a party collects enough petitions to be officially recognized, it can nominate candidates without making them collect their own petitions.

The Constitution Party's long-term goal is to cultivate successful state parties and run strong candidates, said national Chairman James Clymer. He insists that will only happen if candidates spend a lot of time -- and, more importantly-- a lot of money on their campaigns.

"You've got to run a smart campaign and part of that is spending money," said Clymer, who has raised slightly over $130,000 in his bid for a Senate seat from Pennsylvania.

Clymer, who got 6 percent in a recent poll, said it would be hard for candidates to overcome their obscurity if they were not willing to raise money for advertising and literature.

Trump, a Baltimore financial analyst, had not raised the $5,000 that would require him to file with the Federal Election Commission. Krukar, a flight attendant from Bowie, raised $6,400 for his campaign, according to an Oct. 23 filing.

Trump, who does not accept donations, said he is relying on word of mouth, free media and Web site traffic to reach constituents. He complained that he was kept out of a debate on Maryland Public Television when debate sponsors limited participation to those candidates who had received at least 15 percent support in a poll.

Clymer said his participation in a Pennsylvania debate raised his profile and even gave him the opportunity to mention his campaign's Web site on camera -- an opportunity that Trump wishes he had.

"If I had television coverage during the debates it would have been easier for me to get my message across," Trump said.

He and Krukar said they hope to peel voters away from the Republicans in their races, but a Maryland GOP official said the Constitution Party "is not a factor for us."

"Today's Republican voter realizes we are a group built on a broad base of issues, and that we have candidates and officials who reflect that broad spectrum," said Deborah Martinez, a state GOP spokeswoman.

Many Constitution Party members say they are former Republicans or, as Lofton says, "recovering Republicans, with a lot to recover from."

Krukar, a volunteer on Republican Ellen Sauerbrey's failed 1994 gubernatorial bid, switched in 1995 and has not looked back. He holds a dim view of President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.

"The only difference is Kerry will lead the country over a cliff at 100 mph, while Bush will lead the country over a cliff at 60 mph," he said.

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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