LITTLETON, N.H. — From businessman Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan to U.S. congressman Ron Paul's vow to eliminate five Cabinet-level agencies, every major presidential candidate claims to have bold plans to reshape U.S. policies.
But few are as bold as Michael Levinson's idea to build 10,000 clipper ships sailed by college students to carry America's trade on the high seas, or Robert Jordan's proposal to move Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza and spend $50 billion to build a city for them in Syria.
Dozens of fringe presidential aspirants — Republicans and Democrats — are registered for the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary, hoping to spread their ideas, generate publicity or even capture the White House.
The state traditionally holds the first primary election on the road to the party presidential nominations and the second contest overall after the Iowa caucuses.
No fewer than 30 candidates have registered to run in the Republican contest, while in the Democratic pool, President Obama will face 13 challengers.
Obscure candidates are drawn to New Hampshire by its $1,000 filing fee, compared to such charges elsewhere as $35,000 in South Carolina, and the ease of access to voters in a state with about as many people as metropolitan Salt Lake City.
As an added bonus, New Hampshire's long-time Secretary of State William Gardner often offers presidential aspirants a private tour of the statehouse.
The additional candidates can add not only diversity but confusion to the voting process, since the order of the candidates on the ballot is determined by a random draw. In January, New Hampshire front-runner Mitt Romney's name will appear 28th on the Republican side and the president's name will appear 10th among Democrats.
Levinson, the clipper ship candidate, has been running since 1988 without topping 100 votes. This year the unemployed Florida man is contesting as a write-in candidate and plans to send 9,600 individual e-mails to newspaper editors and publishers in an effort to garner media coverage.
"With press and television, my run for president will be successful," he predicted.
Some candidates are light-hearted about their bid. Massachusetts prankster Vermin Supreme runs on a platform of mandatory tooth-brushing and funding for time-travel research. He also advocates free ponies for all Americans.
Some of the candidates are running in an attempt to publicize a single issue.
Robert Greene, 65, a California software developer with a doctorate in physics, is running against Obama to highlight his "thousand-year energy plan," which involves the safer production of nuclear energy from thorium rather than plutonium and uranium.
Joseph Story of Jacksonville, Fla., is running to institute biblical law and protect the country from what he calls "Islamic sects" bent on taking control in Washington. A random drawing put him at the top of the Republican ballot.
Almost none have held political office, and their expectations for how they'll fare at the polls vary.
Jordan, 59, from Garden Grove, Calif., and the co-owner of an insect-control company, takes inspiration from the biography of one-time Republican House Majority Leader and former exterminator Tom DeLay, who he proudly notes "is a termite guy just like me."
Aldous Tyler, a Madison, Wis., printing shop employee and Occupy Madison demonstrator, is not discouraged about his chances against Obama in the Democratic primary, despite having just $100 in his campaign account.
"The biggest success would be if I get the nomination," said Tyler, who has also been active in the Wiccan-rights movement as part of the Madison Pagan Unity Council. Still, he would be satisfied if he could "get everybody who is liberal and progressive involved in the system."
Keith Drummond, 42, a supporter of the conservative tea party movement who runs a software company in Houston, plans to spend $100,000 to spread his message of deep, immediate cuts to government spending. He's focusing his campaign on Iowa and Missouri as well as New Hampshire.
"There are crazier things that could happen in this world than that there could be grassroots support for someone like me," he says. "Herman Cain, he wasn't much different from me two years ago."
Linden Swift, a retired data processor from Indiana whose most recent self-published book was titled "God is Wrath," chose to spend $1,000 to be on the ballot rather than take a trip to Ireland to celebrate his 82nd birthday.
"It would appear to be a dumb waste," he said. "On the other hand, how many children will be able to say 'my dad was a former presidential candidate?' I ought to leave them something since I'm not going to leave them a lot of money."
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