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The weird world of the dark horse presidential candidate

Mark Stewart Greenstein made a video for his followers while attending the College Convention 2020 in Manchester, N.H. Coinciding with New Hampshire’s upcoming first-in-the-nation primary, students from across the country came together to listen to eight different dark horse candidates talk about their platforms.
Mark Stewart Greenstein made a video for his followers while attending the College Convention 2020 in Manchester, N.H. Coinciding with New Hampshire’s upcoming first-in-the-nation primary, students from across the country came together to listen to eight different dark horse candidates talk about their platforms. Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Lorenz Kraus began his speech by declaring that the reason he was running for president of the United States was to dissolve the presidency. From there he moved on to his platform, a plan to divide the United States into four separate countries in a crusade to break the control of the Deep State, British agents, Rhodes scholars, and the Jews. When he arrived at the point in his speech where he called President Trump a four-letter word, Mark Stewart Greenstein — one of his opponents in the New Hampshire primary, who had just moments before addressed this small crowd of undergrads — shot up from his seat in the back of the audience and began screaming at him.

In between the two men sat the 50 or so college students who had woken for the 8 a.m. “dark horse candidate” session at something called the College Convention, which is designed for students to experience the primary. And since anyone willing to plunk down a thousand bucks can get their name on the primary ballot, it is always an experience.

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“He’s ridiculous,” Stewart Greenstein shouted to the students, who had just responded quite well to his own speech, where he acknowledged that he was never going to win but said that a vote for an outsider was a way to express that the front-runners weren’t doing it for them. Now the students watched Stewart Greenstein storm out of the back of the conference room as Kraus moved on to the role that Skull & Bones played in the conspiracy.

Welcome to the bizarre circus of the also-rans in the New Hampshire primary. Fifty people paid the $1,000 processing fee to get on the ticket – 33 Democrats and 17 Republicans – and once you get past the names you might hear on television, you enter an untamed world where small candidates who seek to be taken seriously must struggle against the novelty of the novelty candidates.

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Take, for example, the first two speakers at this event, which offered those candidates the rare chance to give a stump speech. It was led off by Matt Matern, an anti-Trump attorney from Los Angeles who is on the Republican ballot in 10 states and laid out a moderate platform in which his signature initiative calls for eliminating income taxes for families who earn less than $100,000.

Matern was followed at the podium by a New Hampshire woman named Mary Maxwell, who gave off the vibe of a soft-spoken grandma. She used her 20 minutes at the microphone to calmly explain how the Australian wildfires, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and 9/11 were all inside jobs.

Having to follow something like that, as Stewart Greenstein did, can be as exasperating as it is inescapable for all the so-called dark horses. After storming out of Kraus’ talk, he made it past the registration desk and was blasting full-steam through the glass doors to the lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton when he abruptly reversed course, return-stormed into the conference room, and stood leaning against the back row of seats.

Stewart Greenstein, who owns a test tutoring business in Hartford, and also ran for president in 2016, said he wanted to make sure Kraus didn’t say anything even more ridiculous. That and he didn’t really have anywhere else to go.

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Running a campaign the size of Stewart Greenstein’s comes with many limitations. He has no staff and no funding and his presidential campaign signs are printed on the back of lawn signs from another campaign he is running, which is to bring the Whalers back to Hartford and return professional hockey to his hometown.

He is struggling for name recognition, certainly, and also for clarity on his name. On the New Hampshire ballot, he’s Mark Stewart Greenstein, while in Vermont, the only other state he has qualified for, he is Mark Stewart (his campaign signs simply say Stewart). And as an unknown, he said he can’t go canvasing door-to-door because no one knows who he is and “it creeps people out to have a stranger knocking.” He said his best hope is usually to try to get people while they’re leaving a shopping center, where he might get a couple seconds to pitch himself as what he calls an IED – an Increasingly Embarrassed Democrat – who thinks all the front-runners are dangerously far left.

“It’s been miserable,” Stewart Greenstein said of his campaign. “Not a single reporter is interested in hearing me talk about the issues.”

So when the speeches were over, he headed next door to a former armory to spend the day sitting behind a booth in a corner, surrounded by booths for the larger candidates, hoping to lure young people by to talk about politics. Or the Whalers. Or perhaps about getting involved in politics themselves.

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“I know I don’t have a chance to stand toe-to-toe with the big party candidates, but I’d like to get a lot of things out there and I can’t do it alone. I’d like to get a lot of people to run for smaller office. People have a fear about running for office – how can one person do it? But if they see that little Mark Stewart can make some headway running for president, they’ll think maybe they can do it.”


Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.