WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate third-party candidate Kevin Zeese has begun what he calls a “Solutions Tour,” a campaign tactic he said will emphasize his devotion to the environment and highlight issues the major parties avoid.
“It’s not the campaign of usual,” he said. “I want my campaign to have a positive message. As much criticism that I have towards the current approach of the government, I want to put forward a positive vision.”
Zeese said he will highlight 10 to 20 businesses in Maryland that provide job opportunities, promote natural resources or encourage economic growth and present them with an award commending them on their community contributions. Examples include banks providing micro-credit loans, flower farms blooming from former tobacco fields and companies involved with biodiesel fuel.
“You don’t have to dig out of the earth to create stuff and you don’t have to make a landfill,” he said. “By learning about it, by talking about it, these businesses can expand and succeed.”
Zeese is part of a crowded field vying for the open seat held by retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. Leading the pack in polls are Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele for the Republicans and Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, and former congressman and ex-NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume for the Democrats.
Campaign “tours,” however, are not necessarily a unique strategy. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., went on a “listening tour” during her campaign in 1999, and Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Thomas Kaine launched a post-election “transportation tour.” Last summer, Cardin held a four-stop “Fair Shake Tour,” in which he visited fairs offering handshakes.
Cardin spokesman Oren Shur declined to comment for this article.
On Thursday, Zeese visited Community Forklift, a nonprofit company in Edmonston that is kind of a hardware store selling used housing materials. Its stock — cabinets, lumber, and appliances, to name just a few — comes from both deconstruction companies and donations and is stored in a 4,000 square-foot warehouse. Community Forklift, in operation since November, typically sells $4,000 of materials a week and saves customers 70 percent, according to President Jim Schulman.
“We are running out of resources to dig and mine and there’s no rebirth going on,” he said. “I’ve always said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”
Zeese said he is tired of how Democrats and Republicans rely on what he calls “negative campaigning” and strategies that “lack substance.”
Some observers, however, dismissed the tour as just an example of a third-party candidate trying to get attention. Political analyst Blair Lee said a lack of money will inevitably overrun any campaign strategy. Zeese’s fundraising — last week he said he had raised about $30,000 — is dwarfed by Cardin, who has $2.2 million cash on hand.
“It’s an irrelevant idea because third parties have a long history of being ineffective and because Kevin has no money,” Blair said. “I think this is basically a run between Mfume, Cardin and Steele. There are a host of fringe candidates, and with no money they are campaigning on a pipe dream.”
Throughout his campaign, Zeese, 50, an attorney and longtime political activist running on behalf of the Green, Populist, and Libertarian parties, has stressed environment-friendly business and a uniform health-care system. He is an outspoken opponent to the war in Iraq and works frequently with fellow anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
Unlike more typical campaign events, the Solutions Tour is not to raise money. Fundraising “never crossed my mind,” Zeese said. His point is to commend the unsung heroes of communities. His next two stops, both in Baltimore, will be at an African-American craft store and a business that sells renewable products.
Zeese has two more campaign tactics to unveil: a month of midnight campaigning, in which he will visit late-night workers, and working an employee’s job for several hours at local businesses.
“I’m trying to campaign by doing good work for Marylanders that even when I’m not their senator, I’m trying to represent their interest,” he said.
Only former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has conducted a similar campaign tour, said Zeese, who once worked for Nader as press secretary.
“I think it’s a new idea,” he said. “It’s trying to get across a positive image that there is a better alternative in what we have to do to campaign.”