WASHINGTON – Stephen Bassett hasn’t made much of an impression in his bid for the 8th District seat in Congress. He is never mentioned in polls, and rarely appears in debates with Republican Connie Morella and Democrat Chris Van Hollen.
Although he was able to collect more than 5,000 signatures to get on the ballot as an independent, few voters even recognize his name.
Bring up Bassett’s platform, however, and people remember.
“Who’s Stephen Bassett? Not the UFO guy? Oh Jesus,” said Willie Blacklow, a Chevy Chase voter who saw Bassett for the first time last week on his one televised debate.
Bassett is running to expose what he calls a government cover-up of human contact with extraterrestrials. Bassett, who said he has a ddegree in physics from Eckerd College, says thousands of documents, hundreds of researchers and scores of government employees who are willing to testify before Congress are why he believes extraterrestrial life has contacted Earth and is flying through its atmosphere “all the time.”
“The American public has not had an opportunity to stand on that jury. I’ve sat on that jury,” said Bassett, who has dubbed his campaign Disclosure 2003. “I’m just a messenger.”
But Bassett, who has lobbied Congress for the past six years on the issue, speaks with the sigh of someone used to justifying himself before skeptics.
Paul Nahay, longtime friend and assistant director of the Extraterrestrial Phenomena Political Action Committee founded by Bassett, said he has never seen someone so devoted to a cause.
“The emperor’s new clothing-that’s exactly what this is,” Nahay said. “(Bassett) is the person saying the emperor is naked. Wake up . . . open your eyes. It’s a different world.”
The world of politics is certainly different from what Bassett expected. Because he only raised about $8,000, he did not buy advertisements, bumper stickers or signs, instead counting on his Web site and the media to explain his position to voters.
But the media has been little help, and Bassett has been ignored in the polls.
The lack of polling data has proved a “major obstacle” for Bassett, who needs to show he has significant support before he can be invited to most debates. He has been turned down for a dozen, including one at Montgomery College that he was able to participate in only after Morella threatened to pull out unless Bassett also had a place.
Backstage, Bassett gave Morella a single rose, promising her a dozen if she could get him into the other debates.
“She didn’t want to sanction exclusion,” said Morella’s campaign manager Tony Caligiuri.
But that doesn’t mean Morella or Van Hollen takes Bassett’s crusade seriously.
“I think everyone’s entitled to take part in the process,” said Van Hollen, who would not say if he had studied up on extraterrestrials in his bid for the House seat.
Some voters think Bassett’s agenda has detracted from the debate in the race.
“If there is a UFO thing and we get blindsided, oh well, it’s done,” said voter Eugenia Moreno. “We’ve got to look at the ICC (Inter-County Connector highway) and school funding and other local issues.”
When pressed, Bassett said he wants the ICC, universal health care and an end to the war on drugs. But none of those issues are as important to him as his pet project.
“I tend to have issues that fall within a certain galaxy,” Bassett said.
Blacklow said that galaxy places Bassett in the category of “partial wacko,” even though he thought Bassett was a well-spoken candidate with good positions on local issues — when he sticks to them.
“It’s too bad he comes across as a kook. What a shame. What a waste of a good intellect,” Blacklow said.
Kook or not, Bassett is the only third-party congressional candidate to get his name on the ballot in Maryland this year. Only a handful of Libertarian and Green Party candidates have been able to get on the ballot for federal or statewide office, even though they belong to organized political parties.
Nahay said Bassett is used to being a loner.
“He says it like it is without embarrassment. He really keeps his cool in all sorts of lonely situations,” said Nahay.
Although Basset has no idea how much support he has in the district, the one poll he appears in is Morella’s, where he grabs 2 percent of the vote.
But Montgomery Journal columnist Blair Lee said Bassett is not a factor in the race, which polls show is a statistical dead heat between Morella and Van Hollen.
“That’s the crackpot vote, and you can’t predict where it would go otherwise,” Lee said.
Caligiuri said that it might be enough to change the outcome of the race, though.
“Hell, in this district, farmers could be the swing vote. Stephen Bassett could be a swing vote,” Caligiuri said. “He’s on the ballot, so he’s certainly going to be a factor.”
While he might be a factor, Bassett said he does not count on winning.
“At this point, it’s way too late in the game,” for his campaign, he said. Bassett is already looking to the next congressional election, promising to run Disclosure 2005 if the government has not acknowledged the extraterrestrial issue by June.
In the meantime, Bassett is busy planning a party for his 30 volunteers Tuesday night.
“We’re satisfied. We’re not gonna knock ourselves out,” Bassett said. “You have to walk before you can run.”