Lest you forget it, Rep. Duncan Hunter of the 52nd Congressional District of California is still running for president. In recent weeks, the Republican congressman's presence in the campaign has all but evaporated. He was barred from appearing at the New Hampshire debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and more recently was excluded from the Fox News debate in South Carolina.
But Hunter is still running for president, even if his campaign appearances have now been reduced to opening acts for the big players still in the game.
Last night, Hunter delivered a pro-family, pro-military stump speech at what appeared—by most measures—to be a campaign rally for Mitt Romney in Taylor, Mich., near Detroit.
Romney, who had been campaigning earlier in the day in upstate Michigan, was late to arrive. The crowd was getting restless. Kids were crawling on the floor, crinkling empty bags of potato chips, and unpeeling Romney bumper stickers and slapping them across their mouths. The press platform became a makeshift jungle gym for the impatient.
The local politicians passed a few minutes showing videos of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, designed to rally the Republican faithful. The videos were simple pastiches, involving spliced video cued up to catch the candidates in a state of double talk. Clinton aroused more indignation than Obama, but the overall reaction was somewhat muted. Then the lights came back on but still no Romney. So they talked about the horrors of the tax increases passed by the state's current Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm. They talked about taking back control of the statehouse. By this time, around 6 p.m., an hour after the rally had begun, Romney was still missing, but Hunter had conveniently entered from the back of the auditorium, along with two women holding a massive "Duncan Hunter for President 08" banner. They shuffled off to the side wall and stood quietly. A few more local politicians said some additional words. Meanwhile, on stage behind them, a nice scene was unfolding. The American flag, attached by a set of small rings to a lattice of gray poles, was carried from stage right to the center, so it stood behind two rows of otherwise empty chairs. Then the chairs were filled, mostly with healthy-looking kids of various ages. The audience, sensing something was happening, began to perk up. The event coordinator returned to the microphone and started on another introduction. Had Romney arrived?
"This is a man who decided to swim against the tide," she was saying—perhaps a reference to Romney's Mormon missionary work?—"who puts his body where his beliefs are"—a bit more cryptic?—"who went to University of California-Los Angeles"—what?—"And, of course, that man is Duncan Hunter."
Hunter got up, talked about some of the issues at stake, thanked a few people, mentioned his son's bid for Congress, and moved back to the wings. And the local politicians started talking again. Romney showed up around 7:15 p.m.