This week began on a high note for Kesha Rogers, who is in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, as Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of the resilient fringe movement to which she has belonged for a decade, offered a most dire endorsement of her candidacy.
“The United States will be destroyed unless Kesha is elected in her campaign,” said the 91-year-old LaRouche, who ran for president eight times, including one campaign conducted from a prison cell. “Anyone who is opposed to her is an enemy of the United States. It’s true.”
Rogers, 37, who is from Houston and was campaigning in Central Texas this week, faces very long odds, but no longer than the ones that brought her to where she is today. Whoever prevails will face even longer odds in November against Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who is seeking a third term.
In a five-person field in the March 4 primary, Dr. David Alameel of Dallas won 240,000 votes, or 47 percent of all votes cast, to 110,000, or 22 percent for Rogers. Alameel, who made a fortune selling a chain of dental clinics he had built, spent $4.6 million, almost entirely his own money. Rogers spent $55,000.
It was a surprisingly strong performance considering Rogers’ top priority is impeaching President Barack Obama and her most attention-getting prop is her poster of Obama with a Hitler mustache. LaRouche considers Obama responsible for the “degeneration of the national mind” and called him “criminal trash” in a webcast this week.
One theory is that Rogers did well because she had the most familiar last name in a field of unknowns named Alameel, Fjetland, Kim and Scherr. Also, her first name — short for Lakesha — correctly identified her as both a woman and an African-American, important Democratic constituencies.
In the Illinois Democratic primary in 1986, LaRouche candidates for lieutenant governor and secretary of state — Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart — defeated the party-backed candidates, George Sangmeister and Aurelia Pucinski, leading Adlai Stevenson III, the party’s gubernatorial nominee, to quit the Democratic ticket and run as an independent. Stevenson lost and it cost him a national future, said Donald Clark, the LaRouche candidate for Illinois comptroller that year, who with his wife, Judy, is in Texas helping Rogers.
The May 27 runoff should prove tougher terrain for Rogers, said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, which promotes a Democratic agenda but doesn’t endorse candidates.
“Turnout for Democratic runoffs can be quite low, those who cast ballots are either high-information voters, grass-roots activists or both,” Espinoza said. “Recent runoff participation suggests we could see a turnout of about 240,000 this year. If Alameel communicates with the right voters, history suggests that he should easily win the nomination.”
But greeting students one by one over a couple of hours at the University of Texas on Tuesday — along with her husband and campaign manager, Ian Overton — Rogers proved a disarmingly charming candidate.
She shared a laugh with Lisa Ramos, a 22-year-old pre-med student, who told the 5-foot-10-inch Rogers that she mistook her for Michelle Obama, until she saw the sign, “Remove Obama.”
“Well, it’s OK,” Rogers said. “Michelle Obama’s not too happy with her husband right now.”
When Glen White, a 29-year-old master’s student in philosophy from New Orleans, said that field of study had little practical application, Rogers replied it was key to “understanding the real nature of human beings — if you look at the dialogues of Plato, which are my favorites.”
“She seems very sane and nice,” said White, and “I’m all for Glass-Steagall,” referring to Roger’s advocacy of legislation to restore the separation of commercial and investment banking.
But White remains very skeptical of Rogers’ LaRouche ties: “A lot of their rhetoric seem to be appropriating the language of ethics and political philosophy in a way that doesn’t seem entirely coherent or genuine to me, but at the same time it’s sort of nice to see someone at least trying to say, `we have an ideology and here’s what it is,’ and not just talking points, if it didn’t come out sounding quite as over the top as it typically does.”
And, White said, “I feel like a lot of us got burned with the tea party, where it was populist, underdog, grass-rootsy stuff, and then what you actually get is a lot of stuff that’s not that once they get elected, and one doesn’t want to be sort of psychologically manipulated by a good narrative.”
At a long, dense conversation with about a dozen supporters in a back room at the Brick Oven Restaurant on Red River Street in downtown Austin that evening, Rogers said reporters struggle with how to pigeonhole her, asking, “are you far, far left, or are you far, far right?”
She wants to impeach Obama for the same reason she wanted to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — what she calls their capitulation to Wall Street, which she wants to “crush.” She is a believer in the federal government. She places herself in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. She is an ardent foe of state’s rights and a believer in ambitious projects like the space program and diverting water from Alaska to the arid Southwest, where water, she said is being depleted by fracking, a practice she describes as “genocide” and another impeachable offense against Obama.
On Thursday night, Rogers was the final speaker at a Llano Tea Party candidate forum at Inman’s Kitchen in Llano.
The crowd was mostly quiet as she warned that Obama had brought us “to the brink of World War III, thermonuclear war,” but when she struck another of her regular rhetorical blows — “you have to crush the green environmentalists because the environmental agenda is going to kill us” — they came alive with laughter and applause.
It was a good moment for Rogers, but afterward, when Hugh Dawson, a founder and treasurer of the Llano group, was asked how many of the 80 people in attendance were likely to vote in the Democratic runoff, he replied, “approximately zero.”