Seven presidential candidates gathered last Wednesday, Feb. 1, at the first Project White House 2012 Beer Summit, and rather than slinging mud or questioning each other's conservative credentials, the genial contenders mingled with one another and chatted with potential voters.
As food trucks Animal Farm and MaFooCo served burgers and Korean tacos, the candidates talked politics at downtown's Borderlands Brewing Company, 119 E. Toole Ave., as part of their efforts to win Arizona's Republican presidential primary on Feb. 28.
Al "Dick" Perry sold T-shirts celebrating his campaign. (Before Perry had the shirts printed up, he called Texas Gov. Rick Perry's now-defunct campaign to see if they'd sell him surplus "Perry for President" campaign swag. They apparently declined.) Donald Benjamin gave away bumper stickers. Peter "Simon" Bollander handed out a poster boasting that he was the "Founder of the World's Masterminds" and proposing an "Uncle Sam's Sweepstakes" to bail the nation out of its deficit. Michael Oatman, the only Green Party candidate in attendance, carried a camera in a laptop, although the battery power ran out as he attempted to record a message to America.
Sarah Gonzales, the only Latina on the GOP presidential primary ballot in Arizona, made friends with Kip Dean, who had driven from Phoenix to hand out refrigerator magnets featuring his posterized image in Shepard Fairey colors, identifying him as "The Least of All Evils." The two candidates made a tentative promise to vote for each other in the upcoming primary.
"I believe what has happened in this state and this country is just awful," Dean said. "I believe most of the presidential candidates are unlikable. ... I'd like to make this place just a little bit better, and that's why I'm here."
The candidates are all participants in Project White House, a competition to win the Tucson Weekly's presidential endorsement.
Bollander nearly went negative at the Beer Summit, but only in jest. He suggested that the candidates stage a fistfight in hopes of getting media attention, but Charles Skelley, a semi-retired engineer who has focused most of his campaign on restoring the economic principles of Adam Smith, balked at the idea that he be on the receiving end of a punch, however phony.
Bollander has focused much of his recent campaigning on an effort to land a spot in the Arizona Republican Party's Feb. 22 debate in Phoenix, which is slated to air on CNN.
Bollander has taken his argument to the American Civil Liberties Union via email. An ACLU representative, Lizabeth Thomson-Gorman, informed him that the debates are private events, and "merely being on the ballot doesn't mean an individual has a right to be treated as a mainstream candidate by the political parties." But Bollander insists that he has just as much of a right to be onstage as Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich.
"The debates are not private, but televised to the general public," Bollander wrote in response to the ACLU opinion. "My rights have been violated for not being invited to this event."
Speaking of debates: Project White House is excited to announce that—if all goes well—we'll have two nights of televised debates. We're still working out the details with Access Tucson, but it appears that the Tucson Weekly/Access Tucson/Project White House 2012 Dark Horse Candidate Twitter Debate Weekend will air on Saturday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 19. (Please note: Twitter is not an official sponsor—yet!)
If you'd like a chance to mingle with the candidates and debate them yourselves, we're happy to also announce we'll have our second Beer Summit—with food trucks and stump speeches!—from 4 to 6 p.m., next Wednesday, Feb. 15, at Borderlands Brewing Company.