Mickey Kaus, the contrarian Slate blogger, launched his Senate campaign last week with a small gathering at his second-story bachelor apartment in Venice.
Kaus' friends and supporters — not always the same people — were invited to sign his nominating petition. If he gets 65 good signatures by Friday, he'll be a candidate in the Democratic primary against Senator Barbara Boxer.
Even among his closest friends, there was some wariness about the enterprise.
"I'm not going to win, don't worry about it," he told one guest, who was reluctant to sign. Others were assured that they could still vote for Boxer in the fall.
"He's really smart, really funny, and he has a really interesting grasp on the issues," said Phil Savenick, a friend since high school. "But I would never vote for him. Barbara Boxer is one of the good guys."
The crowd was a mix of screenwriters, bloggers and a few random acquaintances, such as the environmental assessor who became friends with Kaus after removing mold from his crawl space almost 10 years ago. There was also a sizable contingent from Beverly Hills High School, Class of '69.
"I'm not sure I ever talked to him," recalled classmate Sandi Padnos, now in public relations. "He was so smart, and I was so afraid of him. When I heard he was running for the Senate, I thought he would be terrific."
Kaus has not run for office since being elected class president more than 40 years ago.
"I received vast support in the nerd and geek community," Kaus said. "I used to be a good politician, but those skills have atrophied."
Kaus wrote for Washington Monthly and The New Republic, and was one of the earliest political bloggers. His Kausfiles blog has long been an irritant to Democratic Party orthodoxies.
"What gets me up in the morning is the chance to bash Democrats for some piece of Democratic dogma." As a result, he said, "I am a widely hated figure."
Sensing that came off as grandiose, he corrected himself: "To the extent people know me, I am more hated than liked among the people whose votes I am trying to get."
Though his style is arch, Kaus intends to tackle serious issues in a more-or-less serious way. His aim is to challenge the Democratic Party in three areas: amnesty for illegal immigrants, card-check unionization and teachers' unions. (As readers of his blog know, he's against all three.)
"The party dogma is standing in the way of liberals achieving what they want to achieve," Kaus said. "Teachers' unions have destroyed public education. When I was going to school, only juvenile delinquents went to private schools. ... Now all of my friends spend a fortune to get [their kids] out of the public schools."
Kaus said he was inspired to run about a year ago, after discussing immigration policy with his dermatologist.
The doctor told Kaus, "I've been a good liberal all my life, but I don't agree with the party on immigration."
"He lit the spark," Kaus said.
In keeping with the tone of his blog, Kaus' launch party featured undercurrents of sarcasm and betrayal.
"I'm thinking up what fictitious name I should add to Mickey's petition," said Michael Oates Palmer, a longtime friend. "I am eager to ACORN Mickey."
But most guests seemed willing enough to play along.
"It's a ballsy thing, to run for office," said Dale Launer, a screenwriter and longtime friend. "I think there's potential there."
"Maybe I'll run, too," said Richard Tuggle, another screenwriter. "For the rest of your life you get to put on your résumé, 'Senate candidate.' No one has to find out you only got 18 votes."
On his New York Times blog, conservative columnist Ross Douthat hailed Kaus' bid and called for more public intellectuals and journalists to enter the fray. It is a more common phenomenon abroad, but to find domestic examples you have to reach back a generation or two.
Douthat cited William F. Buckley's 1965 campaign for mayor of New York. He could also have mentioned Robert Scheer and Gore Vidal, both Californians who ran for the Senate. (Kaus remembered supporting Scheer's campaign, though he was too young to vote, and can still quote from one of Scheer's debates.)
None of those figures, however, provide the model for Kaus' campaign. The person he is trying to emulate is Ron Unz, a pro-immigration conservative who won 34 percent of the vote against Pete Wilson in the gubernatorial primary in 1994.
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"There was a lot of pent-up hostility to Wilson," Kaus said. Similarly, he believes that Democrats are frustrated with the party and "someone is going to break the dam."
Friends wondered whether Kaus will commit himself to the scut work of retail politics.
"Is he gonna speak to the Rotary Club in Modesto?" asked Ben Sheffner, a lawyer who blogs about copyright issues.
"I will talk to whoever will have me," Kaus said. "I will go on whatever show will have me. I will speak to whatever garden club will have me. ... I would demand a debate, and I would hope there is a debate. And if I don't make it, I'll slink away quietly.”