Congressional longshots capitalizing on hunger strike
North County Times (2010-08-18) Mark Walker
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REGION: Congressional longshots capitalizing on hunger strike
RAY LUTZ AND MICHAEL BENOIT GETTING PUBLICITY, BUT LITTLE NOURISHMENT
By MARK WALKER | Posted: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 7:15 pm
They're getting little nourishment, but two longshot candidates for the 52nd Congressional District are getting a lot of attention after launching a hunger strike last week.
Democrat Ray Lutz and Libertarian Michael Benoit each say they stopped eating on Thursday in an effort to get Duncan Hunter to agree to a series of debates.
In these dog days of summer with Congress out of session, Lutz's and Benoit's hunger strikes have generated attention on the national stage, with stories in Politico, the Huffington Post and the online version of Atlantic magazine. On Thursday morning, Lutz is scheduled to appear live on CNN to discuss why he's refusing to eat.
Lutz spokesman Brennan Purtzer said the effort is at least generating food for thought.
"This is about a debate for democracy," Purtzer said Wednesday. "There's a lot of underdog campaigns out there ... and everybody should have a chance to hear from the candidates at least three times within a reasonable time frame."
Hunter said he has agreed to a single debate in October. His schedule for the current congressional recess was set months ago with no room for candidate debates, he said.
"They have my voting record to discuss, and they can each make their own case for why they should be elected," the 33-year-old freshman Republican said Wednesday. "We will get them a solid date, time and place for a debate in the second week of October when people are paying attention and they can get as much exposure as possible."
Lutz, 53, said he has dropped about 12 pounds since his last meal, which was a Greek salad on Thursday evening. The only sustenance he says he has had since is water, diluted apple juice and vitamins.
"We simply are trying to get some debates going," he said, adding that he will suspend the effort when it becomes apparent his health is at serious risk. "It's not worth my life to get a debate with Duncan D. Hunter."
Benoit, 59, said he decided to go on the hunger strike when he heard what Lutz was planning.
"I said I can't let him do that by himself," he said Wednesday. "We both have the goal of getting Hunter out to debate, and neither one of us has a chance if he doesn't."
Hunter succeeded his father, Duncan Hunter, in the 52nd District seat that includes portions of North County. He has more campaign cash and a huge registration advantage over Lutz and Benoit.
Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by nearly 40,000 in the largely rural district. Libertarians number just 2,174. according an Aug. 5 report from the county registrar.
Despite the long odds of him winning election, Benoit says every ounce of the 11 pounds he has lost since Thursday has been worth it.
"People get motivated when they see others doing something like this as an expression of what they believe in," he said.
Hunter's campaign spokesman, Sacramento political veteran Dave Gilliard, said the notoriety the hunger strike is getting is no cause for alarm.
"I'm not really surprised, because it's a slow time and people get publicity for all sorts of crazy things," he said. "We can add this to the list."
Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.