A 52-year-old felon with a ponytail, a mullet, a 210-month federal prison sentence — and a surprising amount of political experience — gave President Barack Obama a serious fight Tuesday night in West Virginia’s Democratic primary election. With 47 of 55 counties reporting their results, Keith Russell Judd had collected 55,592 votes statewide, or 42.80 percent of the total.
Although party rules would award Judd at least one Democratic National Convention delegate for winning more than 15 percent of the vote, it’s unclear whether he would actually have a voice at the Charlotte, N.C. event since no one has volunteered to represent him as a delegate. Still, the ultimate outsider was leading Obama in eight counties late Tuesday night.
As disaffection with the president grows nationwide, Obama has already suffered one embarrassing defeat in Oklahoma, where anti-abortion activist Randall Terry won 18 percent of votes in that state’s March primary contest.
Judd, otherwise known as “prisoner #11593-051” at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, is serving time for “mailing a threatening communication with intent to extort money or something of value” in New Mexico. He was arrested in 1995 and convicted in 1999. In 2000 a federal appeals court noted that he had already “filed thirty-six notices of appeal … [and] no less than 180 motions,” all unsuccessfully.
Ironically, while felons can’t vote in many states, they can run for president.
Judd’s eclectic resume includes the claim that he spent a year studying political science at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, but that may be taken with a grain of salt: He claims to have been a member of the “Federation of Super Heroes” from 1976 to 1982.
He also boasts a stint as a U.S. Air Force band leader, says he founded an organization called “World Peace Through Musical Communications Skills,” and claims he earned “various degrees” in physics, nuclear physics and acoustics at the “University of California Los Alamos.” (RELATED: Twenty percent of NC Dems decline to vote for Obama)
The UC system operates the national laboratory at Los Alamos, Calif., but has no degree-granting campus there.
Though Judd may be a less-than-serious candidate, he has all the political experience of a dogged insider. Beginning in 1995, he has filed more than 70 Federal Election Commission reports on his various political committees. In December 2010 he reported that his presidential committee had raised “well over $700,000 in contributions, collectively from almost every State.”
Judd sent the report not to the FEC, but to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He later filed a copy with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
More reports followed, including one in December 2011 that claimed he had $946,581.50 in cash on hand. It was accompanied by a list of donors, including a “John Doe” category listing nearly 50 phone numbers of supposed contributors and a subsequent list of 1,080 additional donors’ phone numbers.
It’s unclear whether the FEC has verified that any of the numbers belong to actual voters.
He appeared on the 2008 presidential primary ballot in Idaho, after filing his forms and paying the $1,000 fee with a check drawn on his prison account.
Ben Ysursa, then Idaho’s Secretary of State, told the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review in April 2008, “We got conned.”
This year, most of Judd’s appeal in West Virginia seems to be tied to protest voting. Despite that state’s $2,500 cost of entry, Judd appealed to disaffected Democrats in a state Obama lost by 13 percentage points in 2008.
“I voted against Obama,” self-described conservative Democrat Ronnie Brown told the Associated Press. “I don’t like him. He didn’t carry the state before and I’m not going to let him carry it again.”
Asked who he voted for, Brown said, “That guy out of Texas.”
Democratic consultant Mike Plante told West Virginia MetroNews that “most of the people who were casting a vote for Keith Judd, it was not a vote for him, it was a vote expressing dissatisfaction with the president.”
“Barack Obama has not run strong here in the past,” Plante said, “And probably will not run strong in the fall.”
West Virginia Wesleyan political science professor Robert Rupp told the Charleston Gazette on Monday that “the top Democrats in the state,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, are “expressing doubts about this president.”
West Virginians seem to be on the same page. A statewide presidential poll published by the Charleston Daily Mail last week gave Republican Mitt Romney a 54-37 edge over the president.
“When voters go to cast a protest vote, they never know who they’re voting for. It’s who they’re voting against,” Rupp said.
Could Judd be president from behind bars? That question would only be relevant if he should manage to parlay his sudden infamy into the unlikeliest of come-from-behind Cinderella stories.
His prison release, adjusted for good behavior, is reportedly scheduled for June 2013.