At the start of 2009 experts were speculating that an Ivy-League-educated Louisiana governor would enter the GOP presidential nomination race for 2012. They were right. Except the candidate isn’t sitting Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. His chances for winning the nomination evaporated after he gave a widely panned response to Barack Obama’s first joint address to Congress. The candidate instead is former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer. More than two decades after he last won a race for elective office, Roemer formed a presidential exploratory committee last week and immediately set out for Iowa.
• Full Name: Charles Elson “Buddy” Roemer
• Date of Birth: October 4, 1943
• Place of Birth: Shreveport, LA
• Religion: Methodist
• Marital Status: Married, twice divorced
• Children: Caroline, Charles IV (Chaz), Dakota
• Alma Mater: BA and MBA Harvard University
• Elected Offices Held: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1988, Governor of Louisiana from 1988 to 1992
What Supporters Say. When you are out of elective politics for close to two decades, you won’t have many supporters banging the table demanding that you throw your hat in the ring. But Roemer got some praise for his speech last night to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Annual Spring Kick-Off, which serves as the unofficial start to the Iowa presidential nominating process. Rep. Steve King thought that:
Buddy really had the crowd captured.
Roemer’s penchant for quoting scripture no doubt helped. (Proverbs 13:11 was the choice last night.) In the past, about half of GOP caucus-goers have identified themselves as born-again or fundamentalist Christians.
Henson Moore, Roemer’s colleague as a congressman from Louisiana, says:
He doesn’t care what you think, and he’s not worried about what comes after this race. This is his last hurrah; he’s going to [say what] he thinks, and if they don’t like it, tough.
What Critics Say. During his stint as governor, Roemer wore his disdain for Louisiana politics and politicians as a badge of honor. Not surprisingly, that annoyed a lot of people. Burt Tietje, one of Roemer’s Louisiana constituents, told a Florida newspaper in 1991 that:
His problem is he couldn’t get anything done because he constantly fights with the Legislature. The guy is not a compromiser, he doesn’t do business the way Louisiana politicians have done business in the past.
Stories You Will Hear More About. Roemer entered Harvard at the age of sixteen. During his junior year, he married his high school sweetheart Frances “Cookie” Demler. They had two children, Caroline and Chaz. They divorced after Buddy finished his MBA at Harvard.
In 1972, a twenty-nine year-old Roemer was attending the Louisiana state constitutional convention as an elected delegate when he met nineteen year-old Patti Crocker. She was working as a page. They married six months later, and together they had a boy named Dakota.
Following marriage and legislative troubles, Roemer had a mid-life crisis that played out publicly during his time as governor. He followed the advice of a new-age personal growth guru and took his staff on retreats he called “Adventures in Attitudes” where staffers were told to wear rubber bands on their wrists and dispel negative thoughts by snapping the bands and saying “cancel, cancel” to themselves. For a time his favorite saying was “goodbye to me, hello to we,” and he was often heard quoting from Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Perhaps Fulghum’s advice—“Play fair,” “Clean up your own mess,” and “Hold hands and stick together”—will go over well with today’s voters.
Roemer switched political parties in 1991, after serving as a Democratic member of Congress from 1981 to 1988 and then governor of Louisiana from 1988 to 1992. He lost a 1991 Republican gubernatorial primary to David Duke, a former member of the Klu Klux Klan, and Edwin Edwards, who reportedly won the campaign by telling voters to “vote for the crook.” In fact both Edwards and Duke eventually went to jail. Roemer likes to say of his 1991 race against Duke and Edwards: “We lost it by a whisker–and they both went to the penitentiary.”
Roemer in His Own Words. In announcing the formation of his exploratory committee last week, Roemer said:
I’m not Mr. Know-it-All, but I plan on being in Iowa and going to New Hampshire and South Carolina and eventually across the country, talking about some solutions to a nation that has some problems.
At last night’s Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Spring Kick-Off, Roemer opened with his biography:
I’ve always been a church going Methodist boy from a cotton field in north Louisiana. After a long period as a divorced man—twelve years—I remarried some ten years ago. I’m married to a piano player in a church next door to my own. Scarlett. Thank you, Jesus. So I now go to First Methodist Church nearly every Sunday, sit in the balcony, and then as the final hymn is sung, I sneak out and go to the chapel on the campus at LSU and sit with my wife and occasionally the piano…I’m a pro-life traditional values man. I’m the only person thinking of running for president who was elected as a congressman and as a governor. I was a conservative Democrat in Congress for four terms. I helped lead the Boll Weevils. Remember them? That was me. Worked with, worked with Ronald Reagan every day, and I’m proud that we helped turn this great country around.
During a stormy patch in his tenure as governor, he told a small group of constituents gathered for a curbside address:
Now I’m not good at my politics. I make people angry. I know that. But I care. I care more for the future than the past.
The Campaign Book. Roemer has gone against the grain. He hasn’t written a campaign book. At least not yet.
Foreign Policy Views. Roemer isn’t running on foreign policy, so his views on America’s role in the world are hard to gauge. He has said: “I want a president free to lead on energy independence. This nation oughta be freed from the Middle East.” He hasn’t said how he would turn this promise into reality.
Target Audience. Like Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, Roemer will be targeting Tea Partiers and other social and fiscal conservatives. This space is starting to get crowded.
Major Strengths. Roemer is good public speaker. His willingness to speak his mind may create uncomfortable moments for more established candidates who are careful not to say what voters don’t want to hear. In his speech to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Forum, for example, Roemer called for ending ethanol subsidies because they waste government money and take food away from hungry people. Bold talk in a state that benefits substantially from ethanol subsidies. The applause died down for this part of his speech.
Click here to view this video on YouTube.
Major Weaknesses. Roemer has no name recognition and no money. He has been out of politics for nearly two decades. The last election he won was the Louisiana gubernatorial race in 1987. He will try to turn these weaknesses into strengths by making his lack of big money supporters a virtue. He says he will limit campaign contributions to $100 and that with enough support he could raise $600 million and “whip” President Obama. Roemer, whose campaign theme will be “Free to Lead,” vows:
I’m going to be independent from the Big Money, Wall Street money, special interest money; that’s going to be my mark in this campaign.
Roemer in Depth. Roemer’s address to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Forum is up on the web, as is his announcement of his presidential exploratory committee.
He went on “Morning Joe” last week to explain why he’s exploring a run for president. Roemer’s 1987 “I-love-Louisiana-enough-to-make-some-people-angry” political ad anticipates the approach that he will try to take in 2012.
Click here to view this video on YouTube.
Odds for Winning the Nomination. Not good. Just like other long-shot candidate Herman Cain, Smartmarkets.com doesn’t list Roemer among the almost forty candidates it is tracking. The Intratrade Market site race42012.com gave Roemer a .1% chance of winning the nomination.