Ray Lutz, a Democratic candidate for California's 52nd congressional district, is hungry.
He's taken an unusual approach to a typical problem for unknown candidates challenging established incumbents like Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, whose father held the San Diego County seat Lutz is seeking for 28 years. Name recognition goes a long way in congressional races, so there's little incentive for an incumbent to give a challenger free air time and publicity by agreeing to a televised debate. And with local media struggling, a guy like Lutz has few options to get his name out there. So, in a desperate move, Lutz has launched a hunger strike.
Last Thursday, he stopped eating in an effort to pressure Hunter into scheduling a debate with him. While Hunter has yet to return his calls, the media, at least, is paying attention.
Here's an edited transcript of a conversation I had today with the surprisingly cheerful Lutz:
How are you feeling?
The strike's been going on for now six days. It's actually stabilized a bit. The first day was really hard. I'm used to eating every single meal. I love to eat, I'll be perfectly honest. When you skip one, it's like, where's my meal. The next two days were relatively easier, and then I was told at the third day, I had to have an enema to get rid of any waste. I did that, and then the fourth day I was really hating life, and that night, I couldn't hardly sleep. The fifth day, yesterday, I felt really good. And today, I feel really good. I went for a walk this morning -- though I was slow, I'll admit.
What's your goal here?
We've been getting a lot of calls from other candidates with the same problem -- they're unable to get debates with entrenched incumbents. Especially our guy, Duncan D. Hunter. He has the same name almost as his father, Duncan L. Hunter, who was in Congress for 28 years. A lot of people don't know that anything's changed. So he doesn't really want to be seen in public any more than is necessary.
Really what we're disappointed with is how can we expect our democracy to work if people can't even see the candidates? If we had more debate, more exposure to what the issues are for the people, I think the democracy would work better.
So, has it been working?
There was no Atlantic calling me before. There was no exposure even here in the local media. The last time I ran for office in the state assembly, the local paper didn't even cover the race with one story.
Politico wrote this morning that Duncan Hunter's staff said they're willing to debate us in October. They never told us that. They've never phoned us, emailed us, written us -- nothing. They feel like they're in control.
How did you come up with the idea for a hunger strike?
This was actually a suggestion by a former congressman, Jim Bates. I was at a fundraiser and he showed up -- he's a friend of a friend. I said, here's somebody who knows something. I had some other ideas about how to pop the media blackout bubble -- you have to do something that's unusual. I didn't take him seriously at first. I started thinking about it, about what might happen, so I decided just to try it. What can it hurt? I can actually use to lose a few pounds.
And I'm probably, except for Michael Benoit, who's following my lead on this, the only congressional candidate who's on a hunger strike right now.
Do you have an end date for it in mind?
I'm not actually planning to break the hunger strike yet. I don't want to, as they say in Iraq, to come up with any timetables to allow the enemy to sit me out.
But campaigning is hard enough as it is. It's always a full time job and more. At some point I'm probably going to need to say that to fulfill my campaign responsibilities, I'll need to call it off. If I'm at a debate or something and I really want to think fast, I don't want to be on a hunger strike at that point.
Do you have any big plans for how you'll break your fast?
I got the recommendation from the doctor, and you have to start with broth. Then you can work your way up into cooked vegetables.