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Campaign 2000: Political Profile

Keyes Remains a Man With a Mission

Alan Keyes Remains a Man With a Mission

George W. Bush's last remaining challenger continues to decry what he sees as America's moral decay.

May 07, 2000|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

These days, the question that has always lingered for Alan Keyes seems even more obvious: Why?

Why, when George W. Bush is sure to be the Republican Party's nominee, does Keyes keep running for president?

Why do people still send him money?

Why was he singing last week on late-night television?

The spotlight put on Keyes during the Republican debates has now dimmed, but, as he did in his 1996 campaign, the former diplomat and radio talk-show host is still pacing the stage--endorsing a judge in Alabama, denouncing abortion at Georgetown University, singing a song he wrote on "The Tonight Show."

For a political candidate, Keyes has, through all of his eloquent speeches, been faithful to his message: America is becoming a moral wasteland--evidenced by its tolerance for abortion--and its burdensome government insults the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

That indignant message continues to draw donations--$2.3 million this year, more than $800,000 in March, and his campaign predicts fund-raising went as well in April. The average donation remains under $30.

Candidate Refuses to Stop Campaigning

Keyes is still spending money--on a small staff and fund-raising, mainly, and travel. His campaign is now about $1 million in debt but expects recent contributions and federal matching funds to put it in the black. Keyes campaigns a few days each week and supports himself and his family with speeches on peripherally political topics, typically netting between $7,500 and $10,000 per talk.

"That's how I eat," he said last week after taping the interview with comedian Jay Leno in Burbank.

Come midsummer, expect to see Keyes at the Republicans' convention in Philadelphia, decrying the moral decay of America, or if he is not invited to address the delegates, decrying the snub . . . and the moral decay of America.

"If I am a speaker at the Republican Convention, it will say something positive to a whole bunch of people around the country," Keyes said. "If I am not, it will say something negative to a whole bunch of people around the country."

And if he does speak, would Keyes turn off an entirely different, larger and more moderate group of potential Republican voters who tune into the GOP's four-day televised pep rally?

"I don't know that I've ever turned any people away with my speaking, no," said Keyes, who will turn 50 just after the convention ends in August. "Even people who disagree with me tend to respect what I think they understand to be a sincere voice of conviction. I've never had that problem. Other people may, but I've never had it."

Respect is one thing in politics, but votes are another. At the Philadelphia convention, Keyes will be hard pressed to fill a shuttle bus with the delegates he has won during the primary season. It was the rare primary that gave him more than 10% of the vote.

"It's much more difficult for people to vote for somebody that's preaching responsibility and personal responsibility than it is for somebody running with a series of giveaways, where there are no limits and whatever you want is OK," said Keyes supporter Bob Wood, offering a theory on why his candidate did not fare better.

George W. Bush buried eight other Republican candidates by mid-March, but Keyes refuses to stop campaigning and remains Bush's lone challenger. Keyes' chief of staff, Mary Parker Lewis, calls him a "movement conservative" whose message of right and wrong could take 20 years to reach its critical mass but could stand without his candidacy.

"The commitment certainly is fueled by the opportunities of candidacy," she said, "but it is not delusional."

Assessing the early primaries, Keyes said his grass-roots effort peaked in Utah, where Republicans surprised him with a second-place finish and 20% of the vote in their March 10 primary. A rally in a cavernous college arena--some newspapers compared it to a revival--drew nearly 5,000 supporters. Many of those fans--and many more across the country--are still with Keyes, and so devoted that they will vote for no one else come November. They pump his hand in airports and restaurants. He has been called "the voice of God."

"You look at the two main candidates today, you're almost looking at the same person," said Wolfgang Costello, a corrections officer from Valencia who, with his wife, was among 400 evangelical Christians roused to their feet last Thursday by Keyes' sermon-cum-stump speech at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch. Keyes, Costello said, talks about "all the topics that any other politician would be afraid to touch--it would be like putting your fingers in the fire. The truth is ugly, but it's there and it's true and he'll speak it."

Buoyed by Fervent Supporters

The devotion of Keyes' supporters is what keeps him in the race, he says. "Since I asked them to come in win or lose, it seems to me I have to continue working for them, win or lose."

At the GOP convention, he could be the religious conservative flank's most visible--and vociferous--spokesman.

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