The voice on the other end of the phone was deep and mellifluous. “Jim, it’s Santa Claus.”
Being a reporter of many years, that did not throw me, because I knew it did not belong to the most famous resident of the North Pole, but to a resident of Incline Village, Nev., whose legal name is Santa Claus. A former police official, a monk, a child advocate. A candidate for president.
He’s one of Washington state’s 37 official write-in candidates for president, a list that includes some who are less-than-serious and some seriously deluded. They qualify because they filled out a form and sent it to the secretary of state’s office. Unless you merely want to check running for president off your bucket list, as one Spokane candidate said, it’s an exercise somewhere between futility and obscurity.
You can’t win (please do not bother to call and tell me about the conspiracy between the news media and the major parties to keep you from getting the votes you deserve if only we’d pay attention). The votes you get won’t be counted unless they could decide a close presidential race in the state. Translation: They won’t be counted.
Later this month, the state will report the total number of write-ins cast for the office. You can claim all of them; but you can only be certain of one, and that’s if you cast it yourself.
Claus, however, is a serious guy – or as serious as a guy with snow-white hair and beard, a good laugh and a tendency to dress in red on his campaign website can be. He has a serious mission. He runs a nonprofit agency that advocates for children and wants to stimulate in the presidential race a discussion of preventing child abuse and neglect.
The former New York City police official originally named Thomas O’Connor became a Christian monk about 10 years ago. He decided to grow his beard, which had once been dark brown; it came out snow white. He played Santa for a few holiday events, but had the jolly Father Christmas look all year. While contemplating a name change in 2005, he says, he was walking down the street praying for guidance when a car drove by and a young man shouted out the window “I love you, Santa.”
He took it as a sign and changed his name. He found it helpful when visiting governors and legislators in all 50 states to lobby for children’s issues. Call and say “Santa wants to meet with the governor” and you’ll likely get an audience, Claus said. What governor or legislator wants Santa holding a news conference on the Capitol steps discussing how he was denied a chance to talk about helping kids?
In 2008, he said, he saw both major presidential candidates while they were in Nevada, and he got close enough to Obama to ask why neither was addressing children’s issues. “Obama told me I should run,” he said.
So he did, as a write-in. ABC, NPR and the Associated Press did stories about him. So did papers in Canada, Finland, Russia and Brazil. This year, he concluded the candidates again weren’t addressing children’s issues, so he decided to repeat the effort. He came up with a slogan (Restoring America’s Heart and Soul), put up a website, uploaded an announcement video on YouTube and set up a Facebook page that lists 88,000 followers.
The two main candidates still didn’t spend much time on children’s issues.
Last week, Claus announced he was suspending his campaign and endorsing Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president. It’s tempting to say that’s because green is a good Christmas color, but it’s really because he likes her stances on the issues.
His withdrawal probably won’t seriously reduce the number of votes he gets, most of them from people who haven’t heard of his campaign. Voters unhappy with their presidential choices are apt to write in a wide variety of characters, including Santa Claus. Even if they mean the North Pole namesake, technically those votes belong to the Nevada Claus.