When reality TV star and all-around nice guy Rupert Boneham announced he was running for governor of Indiana, a tingle went up my leg, to use Chris Matthews' infamous phrase. Here was a true candidate of the people, a representative of the working class and someone who could bring some unorthodox ideas to the table.
Here we are, a little more than a month away from the election and Rupert is nowhere to be seen. I'd imagined him running a high-profile campaign, gaining plenty of media coverage and presenting himself as a real threat to win the race.
It's not as if he has stellar competition. Mike Pence is a talk-show host and conspiracy theorist who's done nothing while in Congress except to compete with Dan Burton as the state's wackiest congressman. John Gregg is a nice enough guy, too nice in fact to run against a Stalinist Republican such as Pence.
Rupert splits the difference. He's an outsider, to say the least, having never sought any office before except Survivor champion. He doesn't owe anything to the big-money bosses who support Pence nor to the Democratic party insiders who pushed for Gregg to run.
As far as his positions on the issues, well, he doesn't really need to have any. Not being a Bob Knight-like bully like Pence should have been enough. Running as a Libertarian, Rupert no doubt supports a small budget, a liberalized view on soft drugs and an aversion to Democrats and Republicans.
He should be running away with the election, yet it seems doubtful that he's going to pull more than the 1 or 2 percent that Libertarians usually get.
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, the first of three debates between the candidates for governor will be held. This is Rupert's last best shot to seize control of this election like he did the physical challenges in Survivor.
I've met Rupert only once, but I have friends who've known him for years and who report that he is every bit as nice and gentle as he appeared on Survivor and as he does in working for children's charities. That's sweet. But he's not going to get elected governor the way he's running now.
In his public appearances so far, from what I've read, he's been reminding people that they have a third choice for governor and that he wants to build a positive environment where Hoosier children can thrive.
He needs to put that aside for the next month. There hasn't been a nice guy elected to state office in quite some time. Bill Hudnut was a nice man who was the best mayor Indianapolis has ever had. When he ran for statewide office, he was demolished and subsequently retired from politics.
Rupert needs to come out swinging in the debates. He needs to press Pence on a variety of issues. If Pence is the champion of family farmers, as he claims, then why is he campaigning for governor when he should have been in Congress fighting for a new farm bill? The livelihood of our farmers depends on that bill being passed and Pence has been nowhere to be seen.
He needs to ask Pence if he's ever used marijuana, and if so, why is he against medical marijuana in the state? He needs to ask Pence why, if he is such a fiscal conservative, did he rubberstamp all of George W. Bush's deficit budgets?
Another fruitful area is election reform. He needs to press Pence on Indiana's restrictive voter ID law and the continual gerrymandering of political districts. Rupert needs to pin every failure of the Daniels administration squarely on the lapel of Pence, as the would-be heir of his failed policies.
The people I know who know Rupert describe him as honest, hardworking, charitable and full of integrity. In other words, he's the opposite of Pence. He needs to redefine himself as a fighter who is also honest and hardworking.
Ask Pence about the wealthy contributors to his campaign and what rewards will they get in a Pence administration. These millionaires aren't backing Pence because he's a nice guy; they're backing him in order to get more tax breaks, sweetheart government contracts and big bucks from the privatization of state assets.
If this entire campaign has been a publicity stunt to promote the brand name of Rupert Boneham so he can continue to rake in public appearance fees and another shot at TV stardom, I can't entirely blame him for that. These are tough times and we all have to do whatever we can to survive, no pun intended.
But when I heard he was running for office, I expected him to be a tireless advocate for people just like himself: someone willing to work two jobs to feed his family, someone who knows what it's like to be discounted by the elites of society. So far, he hasn't done any of those things.
That can all change next week at the first debate, which will be held in Zionsville. It may be too late for him to win the election, but it's not too late for Rupert to do what we all thought he'd do, and which, in fact. he did on Survivor: fight to the very finish, never stop pushing and give it everything he has.
We're counting on you, Rupert. Please don't let us down.