published Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Democratic Party bars door to Chattanoogan John Wolfe

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

John Wolfe speaks during a debate.
John Wolfe speaks during a debate.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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John Wolfe, the Tennessee lawyer who is polling strongly against President Barack Obama, won't be granted any delegates by Arkansas' Democratic Party -- no matter how many votes he gets in the May 22 Democratic primary, party officials said Thursday.

National Democrats have told the state party that they won't seat anyone who declares for Wolfe, said Candace Martin, state party spokesman.

Wolfe said it's a "huge hypocrisy" that he won't be awarded delegates, regardless of how he fares. And he was also angry that no one from the Democratic Party contacted him. Instead he learned the news from reporters.

The attempt to dampen enthusiasm for him in a state where Obama is deeply unpopular will only backfire, the 58-year-old Chattanooga resident said.

"The public will really resent that. If anything it will have the opposite effect. It's a slap in the face to the people's will," Wolfe said. "They're treating Obama like a king. It's not an election. It's a coronation."

Last week, a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll showed Wolfe with 38 percent of the vote in the 4th Congressional District, a largely rural swath of much of south and west Arkansas.

Obama netted 45 percent of 418 likely Democratic voters in the poll, conducted last week. The survey had a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

So far the only delegate to declare for Wolfe is Bill Conway of McGehee. The candidate declaration period ended Friday.

Conway is chairman of the county Democratic Committee in Desha County. He supported Obama in 2008 but said the president's performance has disappointed him.

"It's all smoke and mirrors. I don't see much substance," Conway said.

Conway, 78, decided to pledge his support for Wolfe because he was born during the Great Depression the same year that seminal banking-reform legislation, the Glass-Steagall Act, was passed. He said he likes Wolfe's stance opposing Wall Street and the big banks.

"I like what he stands for. He's trying to do something about the banks," Conway said.

Critics say repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 contributed to the banking and investment crisis in 2008.

As for being barred from representing Wolfe at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September, Conway said he understood.

"That's perfectly all right," said Conway, a retired hospital administrator. "Hey, I live in southeast Arkansas. It's called Mississippi unredeemed."

Two other delegates have remained uncommitted, said Martin, the state party spokesman.

The Democratic National Committee informed the state party of its decision on Wednesday, Martin said.

Wolfe failed to complete two steps for his candidacy in Arkansas, according to the state party officials.

He failed to authorize a designated representative by a Feb. 20 deadline. He also failed to submit a written statement outlining what steps he'd take to support the Arkansas Democratic Party's delegate affirmative-action plan, which seeks to maximize the number of women, blacks, gays and other minorities that are elected to represent Arkansas in Charlotte.

Wolfe admits he missed the deadlines but said nothing in the party's delegate-selection plan states that failing to comply with those steps disqualifies a candidate from receiving delegates.

In fact, the plan doesn't outline any process to deny the delegates if the proper paperwork isn't filed. Wolfe paid his $2,500 filing fee to the state Democratic Party in March.

And they took his money.

He said he feels "morally compelled" to file suit.

Although federal party rules allow Wolfe to appeal if he's denied delegates, Martin said the national party "was pretty clear with us" that they wouldn't seat any Wolfe delegates.

Wolfe is the only other candidate for president on the Democratic ballot in the state. He got 12 percent of the vote in Louisiana's primary in March. He received scant support in New Hampshire and Missouri.

Obama has faced stout opposition in several states recently.

In West Virginia, a federal prison inmate received more than 40 percent of the vote last week. Anti-Obama candidates also fared well in Oklahoma.

Recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, Conway isn't likely to attend another national party convention.

"It's all right. I've lived a rich and full life," Conway said.

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