Dale Peterson Is Running for President ... Sort Of

Remember Dale Peterson? The guy who ran this TV ad that turned him, momentarily, into a national political celebrity last year?

Well, he may or may not be running for president. Peterson lost his race for Alabama agriculture commissioner, taking third in the Republican primary, but he hasn't faded away into oblivion. He's still trying to capitalize on that initial fame.

"I guess what you'd say...is I'm running," Peterson told me today at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., when I asked him if he's running for president in 2012. And then, immediately: "I don't know if I'm running. I'm carrying a message for the wannabe presidents."

Peterson was at CPAC--the annual three-day conference in Washington that draws big-time speakers and thousands of conservative activists, many of them students--with an official booth in the exhibition hall, handing out faux-straw cowboy hats and asking people to vote for him as a write-in candidate in the CPAC presidential straw poll.

In person, Peterson is almost exactly as he seems in the now-infamous TV ad. Whereas Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour pretty much owns a monopoly on Southern folksiness among serious 2012 candidates, Dale Peterson blows him out of the water. He can't go thirty seconds without a witticism.

Since his failed agriculture commissioner campaign, Peterson said he's been traveling around the country advising state-level candidates. "Every candidate that I worked for I got elected," he told me. Peterson said that work has taken him to Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. He's also recorded a series of re-hashings of that original campaign video, for various purposes.

Peterson has a 527 political organization--a soft-money, issue-advocacy group as it's classified under federal law--called Get Up America!, which allows him to travel, raise money, and conduct political activity, as long as he's not overtly running for office. He seems to be pushing that boundary.

I asked him what, exactly, his message is.

"It's time to do a little more straight-talk, and a little less walzing," he told me.  "It's like Nicholson says, 'You want the truth, you can't handle the truth'? Well, the American people, they haven't had the chance to hear the truth."

Peterson said he's mainly concerned with small government, jobs, the deficit, and immigration. His ratio of attitude to specific proposals appears to be roughly 50 to 1.

His goal, he said--if not to become president himself--is to influence the way people approach presidential candidates in 2012.

"If all these wannabe presidential candidates are gonna inflict themselves on Iowa, I need to go to Iowa and say, 'If these guys are gonna inflict themselves on you, here's the questions you need to be asking,'" he told me.

Peterson has been raising money through his group, and he hasn't been getting paid for the advice he's offered to other candidates.

"So far, this has been on my nickel," he told me. "I need more nickels."