This year the Democratic presidential primaries are only interesting when President Obama doesn't do well in them. That happened Tuesday night in West Virginia, when Texas inmate Keith Russell Judd got 40.6 percent of the vote in the state to Obama's 59.4 percent. For Obama, it's an embarrassing reminder that a lot of working-class white folks don't like him. For Judd, it's a massive victory after a nearly two-decade career pestering courts and election officials.
Why it happened to Obama: An incumbent president running without a serious opponent should squish all vanity candidates. But Obama's lost a serious number of votes to non-serious challengers in 2012. In Oklahoma, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry got 18 percent of the vote -- enough to qualify for delegates to the Democratic National Convention. John Wolfe, a Tennessee lawyer, won 18,000 votes in Louisiana, the Washington Post reports, while in Alabama, 18 percent of Democratic voters said they were "uncommitted" instead of voting for the president. "Obama’ problems with working-class voters remain very real, and Romney is making every effort to peel away chunks in certain states," Politico's Maggie Haberman writes, and several stories hint that part of that is because he's black.
Why it happened for Judd: Judd, was sentenced to 210 months in the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas for making threats in letters to the University of New Mexico, was the only other candidate in the Democratic primary. And based on a Nexis search, his candidacy didn't get much coverage by the West Virginia media, making it likely that most people who voted for him simply because he wasn't Obama. "I voted against Obama," a 43-year-old electrician named Ronnie Brown told the A.P. Judd.
Imprisoned since1999, Judd has been honing his legal skills. He appears to be a habitual filer of legal claims, because in 1999, the U.S. District Court of Texas barred him from filing noncriminal claims in court because he'd filed 12 frivolous claims over the previous four years. His political campaigns appear to have had more --though still modest -- success than his legal battles. Before he was charged for making threats, he ran for mayor of Albuquerque in 1993. Over the last dozen years, he's gotten better at getting on ballots, turning running for political office from behind bars into something of a pastime. He qualified to be a write-in candidate on Indiana's presidential ballot in 2000. In 2008, he got 1.7 percent of the vote in the Idaho Democratic primary, finishing third behind Obama and HIllary Clinton. His appearance on this year's West Virginia ballot came after significant struggle: He sued West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in May 2011 to get on the ballot, claiming he was blocked in 2008 despite paying all the fees and filling out all the paperwork.
So what does Judd the candidate want? Last July the West Virginia Record reported, "Judd claims all laws should be declared in conflict as unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution," though it's not clear whether that really meant all laws or just the state's election laws. Other core issues for Judd: He opposes Obamacare, the West Virginia Gazette reports, as well as laws stripping felons of the right to vote. Archives of interviews of Judd are hard to come by, but it appears he filled out a survey for Project Vote Smart. His answers are fascinating.
Favorite President and Why:
Richard Nixon: He got us out of Vietnam, and began world peace with China and the Soviets...
Hobbies or Special Talents:
I Bowled a Sanctioned 300 Perfect Game, and Tournaments. ESP, Telling the Future...
"Heaven's A and O" on DVD with Chaplin Hoops at Allenwood Low Security Federal Prison, true video from December 2004. Star role of "Charlie," played by Keith Russel Judd...
Project Vote Smart lists him as a Rastafarian born in Pasedena, California on May 23, 1958. Some of the accomplishments listed could not be verified in a quick search, such as his claim to have been a band leader for the Air Force since 1983, to having attended Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, or that his father invented the atomic bomb. But his interests are fascinating, particularly "Member, Federation of Super Heroes, 1976-1982."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.