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A Colorful View From the Periphery of Politics

Conventions: Outside the main Republican event, an odd assortment of characters gathers, drawn to the limelight like a candidate to a crowd.


SAN DIEGO — The giant bee is here, as is the banana grandma, the person in the cat suit and the "God is not white" guy.

Political conventions, it seems, are magnets for the off-the-wall. And we don't just mean inside the hall.

Roaming the streets and hotels around the convention center is another assortment of characters--the groupies, saviors, hucksters and plain old spectators drawn by the hoopla.

Among the most visible of San Diego's unofficial delegates is the "Back Jack" contingent, a group of about two dozen marchers parading outside the convention center with signs supporting their own presidential candidate.

No, not Jack Kemp. Jack in the Box. (Would you like fries with that?)

Another candidate being touted for higher office is Forrest Gump, courtesy of Bruce Leinbach, a 54-year-old West Covina real estate broker who drove down to pass out Gump's 28-point campaign platform.

"It's just to promote more positivity in politics," Leinbach said. Some sample advice: Don't do anything your mother wouldn't be proud of; believe in the good guys (they eventually win); and try to do a good deed daily without political or financial consideration.

Also in town to promote positivity--and the floral industry--is Buzz, official spokesbee for the National Promoflor Council. Buzz launched his White House campaign in New York City's Times Square, telling listeners that the nation's "serious deficit of smiling faces" would improve if people sent more flowers.

"I'm trying to convince Republicans to come over to the flower cause," said the 6-foot, 200-plus-pound bee.

Despite throwing his own antennae into the ring, Buzz isn't critical of his better-known opponents. He wants people to "vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of species."

Another plant-related character is Madalena Martinelli, who has been wandering convention-area hotels waving a banana baton and wearing a loony, banana-bedecked outfit.

"I'm just a nutty grandma from San Leandro," said Martinelli, who claims to be 10 days older than Bob Dole. "I've always wanted to go to a convention and I want to get Clinton out of the White House. So I flew down to add a little levity."

Here on a more serious note is Muhammed Abdullah of San Diego, a Muslim who planted himself across the street from the convention hall with a hat that said "God is not white" and a poster that depicts an anglicized Jesus overlaid by a circle with a slash through it.

"You're not supposed to worship God in any form of ethnicity, race or gender," he tells passersby. "I'm here because there are a lot of conservative Christians [at the convention] who identify with this white supremacy."

Not everyone, of course, is promoting a cause or seeking publicity.

Many are simply curious about the spectacle of it all.

"We just came down to check it out," said Hugh Weech of suburban Poway. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime [thing] and we're Republicans."

Another visitor was so curious about the event that he held a hand-lettered sign: "Will work for convention pass."

Paul Stapleton, 29, who cruised by on a bicycle, also wondered what the scene was like.

"I wanted to see if there really was a convention," the San Diego resident said, "or if it's just staged on TV."

* Times staff writer Jeffrey Rabin contributed to this story.

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