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Why Are These People Running?

They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. But the longest shots say it’s worth running anyway.


The odds that independent congressional candidate Preston Picus can unseat House minority leader Nancy Pelosi fall somewhere between zero and a number with many zeros in front of it. Pelosi, first elected to Congress nearly 30 years ago, is a political juggernaut who won her last primary with 78 percent of the vote. Picus, who’s running on an anticorruption platform, had raised just $20,498 as of June. But even though the public high school teacher knows his chances are minuscule, he believes the effort is worthwhile. “What I hope to be is a harbinger for something better in this country,” he says. “Whoever comes after me will go a little bit further. And then there will be someone else.”

Across California, stacked Democratic districts and powerhouse incumbents dominate some races, making it nearly impossible for opponents to defeat them. But still, armed with little more than volunteers and their convictions, candidates are signing up to take them on—either to battle the establishment, to strengthen their party, or because, hey, somebody has to run.

“It’s a party-building exercise,” says Sue Caro, a Republican candidate challenging longtime congresswoman Barbara Lee in the East Bay’s Congressional District 13, which is only 6.4 percent Republican. “There won’t be any cavalry coming in to help me. It’s about standing up for a point of view that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and creating a choice for voters who disagree with the incumbent.”

In District 2, which runs from the Golden Gate to the state border with Oregon, a Republican grocery clerk named Dale Mensing is challenging two-term congressman Jared Huffman. As of June 30, Mensing had only raised a few thousand bucks, but says it’s important to run to defend the rights of gun owners. Other über–long shots include Republican Richard Fox, who’s challenging 11-term Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo in Silicon Valley’s District 18, and Republican Danny Turner, who’s taking on Eric Swalwell, a two-term Democrat from District 15.

“It’s really about getting your message out there,” says Roger Petersen, a Republican candidate running against East Bay Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, who won the primary with 75 percent of the vote. “If a few people catch the meaning, great—I’ve struck a new blow for the U.S.”


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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