An update on the tree-in-the-woods riddle: If you're running for president and nobody knows it, are you really running for president?
Mike Gravel is.
He has 0 delegates, virtually no fundraising and a campaign staff that amounts to "the better part of about a half dozen people," according to deputy campaign manager Jon Kraus.
In the 10 remaining Democratic nominating contests, Gravel is on the ballot in just one state.
Not surprisingly, the 77-year-old former senator from Alaska has to tell people, as he told PolitiFact, "Yes, I'm still a candidate."
Gravel returned from oblivion to a momentary spot on the national stage when he announced Wednesday he had joined the Libertarian Party. But the central question of his candidacy — is it one? — remains.
This month he put a video on YouTube complaining the site's YouChoose page no longer features him. "Apparently I've been relegated to a footnote at YouTube," Gravel (gra-VELL for those wondering) says in the video. "I'm one of three candidates in the presidential race, Obama, Hillary and myself. I am a candidate. I have not withdrawn."
PolitiFact set out to confirm Gravel's status in the race. He admits the challenge there.
"That's what happened when the Democratic Party cut me out of the debates last September," Gravel said. "No visibility. People don't even know I'm running. That was the intention of cutting me out."
Which might explain why when we checked to see if Gravel was on the ballot in the upcoming contests, some state officials had no idea who we were asking about.
"Could you spell that?" asked Bowen Greenwood, communications director for the secretary of state of Montana (primary, June 3). Greenwood went to check and came back with: "The elections folks tell me they've never heard of him. I confess, I've never heard of him either."
West Virginia (May 13) had not heard from him. Neither had South Dakota (June 3). Puerto Rico (June 1) was finalizing its candidate list but didn't expect Gravel to be on it.
And in Guam (May 3), Tony Charfauros, chairman of the Democratic Party, said: "Are you talking about Mike Gravel who used to be a candidate for president?"
Gravel told us he's on the ballot in North Carolina (May 6) and Oregon (May 20). Turns out he is confirmed for the North Carolina primary, but Oregon is a different story.
Scott Moore, chief of communications for the Oregon secretary of state, told us they would have been happy to put Gravel on the ballot, but his campaign never filed the paperwork.
He's also not on the ballot in Pennsylvania (April 22), Indiana (May 6) or Kentucky (May 20).
In addition, fundraising "couldn't be tougher," the candidate said. He hasn't filed a campaign finance report since year-end 2007. George Smaragdis, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, says candidates who aren't expected to raise $100,000 in an election year are not required to file their contributions monthly, which confirms Gravel's money issues. Puts him a little behind Sen. Barack Obama's $55-million February take.
Gravel doesn't hold campaign events every day, but he is planning a 10-day tour of the Northeast starting next week — regions that already had their primary elections.
So, what is the goal of this campaign?
While Gravel "has pretty much had it" with the Democrats and thinks they have cut their ties to him, he's intent on being on the November ballot one way or another.
In fact, he hopes to seal the deal in Denver. But not at the Democratic convention.
At the Libertarian Convention — May 22-26.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Amy Hollyfield can be reached at (727) 893-8491 or firstname.lastname@example.org