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CONCORD

Surprise! Roemer's running

Unlikely candidate likes to keep them on their toes

Buddy Roemer is full of surprises. Once, he switched parties, from Democrat to Republican, while still serving as governor of Louisiana.

Once, he rocketed to the top in that race for governor, moving from worst in the polls to first before you could say jambalaya.

Once, in a re-election bid for governor, Roemer finished behind David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

And now, the Republican who nobody knows, the bespectacled man with the white hair and southern drawl, the former politician who hasn't held office in 20 years, wants to be your president.

He appeared yesterday at the home of Concord's well-known political odd couple, liberal Arnie Arnesen and Republican Marty Capodice.

Roemer talks about campaign finance reform more than the GOP candidates mention Reagan. He is asked about his platform, why it's different than the other candidates, who emphasize jobs.

Roemer, of course, surprises you, if not with his answer, then with the language he chooses.

"Because they're talking bull----," he says. "The system is owned by big companies. We need fair trade, and I will defend jobs from unfair trade, but it can't be done if you take their money."

He cites his unwillingness to use political action committees to finance his run, which began less than two months ago and was announced at Dartmouth College.

Instead, Roemer has turned fundraising upside down. His math is simple: 1 million supporters, $100 donation from each. Then, he says, he can win.

He won't accept more than $100 from anyone, no matter who that might be.

"You have to go to the people," Roemer says. "I don't take million-dollar checks like Mitt Romney takes. I don't take special interest money that other Republicans take."

Roemer hopes his offbeat approach to campaigning will gain traction. He'd love to mix it up with the Romneys and Bachmanns and Perrys. He'd love to ask them about who they're in bed with.

He hasn't been invited to any of the Republican debates but says he announced his candidacy at Dartmouth with an eye toward next month's debate at the Ivy League school.

"If I don't get on stage soon, I'm gone," Roemer says. "I announced my intention to run in Hanover. You think that was an accident?"

It's obvious Roemer loves it here. He's renting an apartment in Manchester, one he says is quite comfortable. He points out that he's spending resources and time in this state, not Florida or Iowa.

He spoke at a Rotary Club in Portsmouth, in front of a crowd he estimated at 150, before coming to Concord last night.

The odd couple's home served as the perfect setting for a political event featuring a colorful man. A huge house built in the 19th century, it looks like it came off the set of Gone With The Wind

Meanwhile, Roemer's wife's name is Scarlett, and, frankly my dear, Roemer doesn't give a damn about bucking the system to separate himself from the crowd.

The home was once owned by Republican Caroline Gross, the first woman to be named majority leader of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

And Arnesen was the first female gubernatorial nominee from a major party. Arnesen has kept tradition alive, the one about using 15 Rumford St. as a stage for campaigners looking to wow voters in the first-in-the-nation primary.

She proudly shows you around the house, cutting through a kitchen the size of Penacook, to the master bedroom.

Once, when the bedroom was the living room, Bill Clinton posed for a picture there, leaning his arm on the varnished mantel, above the fireplace. And Jimmy Carter slept in a bedroom upstairs.

Later, Arnesen sheds her liberal cloak and gives Roemer credit, saying, "When I hear him talk about money and politics, my ears perk up. I hear about how much Barack Obama wants to raise and hear about their super PACs, which is about no transparency and unlimited money, and that's not a democracy that I recognize. (Roemer) needs to be on the stage to say this."

In another room, where the cheese and crackers are, Mary Sayer, a senior citizen from Concord, says her friends are worried about the current crop of Republicans eyeing the White House. "They are thinking of leaving the country because of the Republicans," Sayer says. "I have a friend of mine in Canada right now looking to move there. I hope he will blast the rest right out of the running."

When asked why she likes Roemer, Sayer says, "He hasn't been in Washington for a long time. I think the Republicans need someone like him, that has a little sanity. The others bring religion in when they shouldn't."

Roemer works the room, shaking hands with about 20 curious voters. Some are Democrats, some Republicans, some independents. All have their eyes locked on the unknown candidate when he pounds his fist on the kitchen bar, his voice rising.

He's looking for one more surprise.

"I believe some day, somewhere, somehow, I will make a debate," Roemer says. "And when I do, this campaign is over."

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)

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