The recent admission by two prominent West Virginia Democrats—Senator Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin—that they personally might not vote for President Obama suggested there is some dissatisfaction within the Appalachian state's branch of the president’s party. And sure enough, the results of last night’s Democratic presidential primary confirm that West Virginians harbor a particular discontent with Obama.
The president won Tuesday’s West Virginia Democratic primary, of course, but he didn’t go unchallenged. In a shocking coup, his competitor—Keith Judd—raked in 40 percent of the vote, the most a Democratic challenger has been able to garner in this year’s primary contest so far.
Keith Judd, according to his apparently self-submitted profile on VoteSmart.org, is a Rastafarian/Christian Democrat whose education allegedly includes degrees from a number of universities, including the University of California, Los Alamos, and the University of New Mexico; he also claims to have “attended” Harvard’s “John F. Kennedy School of Politics” in 1998. He’s been involved in a number of organizations, including something called the Homeless People’s Voting Rights Association and the little-known (and unsearchable) Federation of Superheroes. He claims to be the son of actress Lillian Russell (Russell died in 1922; Judd says he was born in 1958), names Richard Nixon as his favorite president, and lists “ESP, Telling the Future” among his special talents. His favorite website is Google. Judd says that in addition to his current presidential bid, he’s run for commander in chief four other times, mayor of Albuquerque twice, and governor of New Mexico once.
Missing from Judd’s lengthy online biography, however, is the fact that this presidential primary candidate doesn’t actually live in West Virginia, but in a low- security federal prison in Texarkana, Texas.
He’s currently serving a sentence for making threats against the University of New Mexico in 1999. Norman Weiss, one of the lawyers who challenged Judd in the appeal round of the University of New Mexico case, said he’s been on the opposing end of several cases involving Judd since the mid-1990s, and Judd has always represented himself. Weiss laughed when asked about Judd’s candidacy for president and said that when he first heard about it, he “thought that was humorous.” A quick scroll through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ archives reveals that Judd has been involved in about 238 cases in that court, dating back from 1997 all the way up to 2011.
To get on the ballot Tuesday, Judd simply had to fill out a certificate of announcement and pay a $2,500 filing fee. The certificate, however, doesn’t ask whether a candidate has been convicted or is in prison. A spokesman for the West Virginia secretary of state’s office told The Atlantic that they “do not have the authority to determine the eligibility of candidates. That is up to the courts, so somebody has to challenge somebody’s eligibility to hold office.”
So does the prisoner’s primary success mean anything? West Virginia and national Democratic Party rules specify that all a candidate needs is 15 percent of the vote in the primary to secure at least one delegate at the Democratic national convention. Yet a statement from the West Virginia Democratic Party today says, “It is not likely that Judd will earn any delegates to the national convention. No one filed to run as a national convention delegate to support him for president, and he may not be eligible to serve anyways, since he is currently an inmate in a federal prison.” The party is currently investigating whether Judd qualifies for delegates, since he doesn’t seem to have filled out the required paperwork.
“It’s quite significant that an incarcerated prisoner garnered 40 percent of the vote against the president,” said Richard Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor who focuses on election law.”That tells you there is a high level of dissatisfaction against the president in West Virginia.”
Still, he insists, Judd’s popularity “doesn’t represent a threat to Obama’s nomination, it’s more of an oddity.” However, just last week, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said “President Obama has apparently made it his mission to drive the backbone of West Virginia’s economy, coal and the energy industry, out of business. That will not only hurt thousands of West Virginia families, it will destroy the economic fabric of our state.” It seems Tomblin isn’t the only West Virginian concerned about the president’s plans.
But is it even legal for a convict to run for president from prison? Hasen points out that of the few qualifications the Constitution lays out for a presidential or congressional hopeful, the absence of a criminal record is not among them. Since Judd is incarcerated in a federal prison, Hasen explains, any limitation to his election would be political, not legal. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, for example, ran for reelection in November of 2008 after being convicted of seven felony counts of corruption. He didn’t win, but back in 1798, Rep. Matthew Lyon actually conducted his congressional campaign from prison, won, took office, and later avoided an attempted expulsion.
If Judd were actually elected president while behind bars, he might first have to be pardoned in order to serve. But of course, “we’re talking fantasy land here,” Hasen said. “It’s silly to talk about.”