By Michael D. Shear
Buddy Roemer, the former Republican governor of Louisiana, is eager to be an outspoken, sharp-edged irritant to members of his own party, casting them as bought and paid for by the special interests in Washington.
So he's running for president.
After nearly two decades out of public office, the onetime Democrat turned Republican has popped out of obscurity to become the first candidate to officially form a 2012 presidential exploratory committee. And there's little doubt where the exploration will lead.
"I see no leadership. I see no one with a plan. I see no one, particularly our president, advance anything more than platitudes," Mr. Roemer declared during an interview with The Caucus on Wednesday. "I decided to look for somebody who was going to be free to lead, somebody who pushed himself away from the special interest money and then turned and looked at the problem."
That someone, he has decided, is himself.
The specifics of his presidential platform are a bit fuzzy and vague. He says he's still working out the details of "a political plan in the back of my head." He adds: "What I'm not yet set on is round two. How do I begin to move up in the field and to move out in the public's mind?"
But that may be the only thing that Mr. Roemer is uncertain about. A 67-year-old banker with a thick Southern accent and a shock of white hair, he is determined to run his campaign in a way that spotlights what he calls the endless corruption in Washington politics.
He pledges to raise money only from donations of $100 or less -- no political action committees, no corporations, no big donors writing huge checks. And he says everyone who gives him even one dollar will be publicly named by his campaign. He says that will give him the freedom to stand up to big corporations, insurance companies, Wall Street and other institutions.
"I'm not putting other people down and I know I'm not the smartest guy in the world," he said. "But I know this: When I am elected president, I will be free to lead. The Internet makes it possible."
So far, he declines to bash his likely Republican rivals, though he stumbled a bit in a round-table conversation with Times reporters and editors when asked whether Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, was qualified to be president. He squirmed a bit and said, "Momma told me there'd be days like this."
Finally, he added: "Well, you know, I like her. Does that answer your question? Am I dodging it? I think she showed some weaknesses in terms of knowledge. We all will. But hopefully, we then go back and learn. We'll see what kind of homework she's done. It's possible. I don't dismiss her. I like her spirit. I like her pride."
But by the end of a long primary campaign, Mr. Roemer could be the Republican equivalent of the pea under the mattress -- the one who makes everyone uncomfortable.
Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is likely to raise millions of dollars from big donors, as is Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, if he runs. Both are wealthy and well connected. Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, is a former Washington lobbyist.
Mr. Roemer promises to ask them a single question at the presidential debates. (He's still waiting for the invitation to the opening debate on May 2.)
"I'm going to ask, "Where did you get your money?'" he said.
On issues, Mr. Roemer says his motivation for running is getting control of the nation's debt, which he describes, colorfully, as "higher than you can stand or fly -- debt that's on the chest of our children and grandchildren."
He says he would cut government spending by 1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product each year, an amount he estimates at $150 billion annually. He says that he would raise the retirement age for Social Security by one month a year for 12 years. He promises cuts in defense spending and other sacred cows.
He criticizes Mr. Obama frequently, saying he has not provided the leadership the country needs. And he is especially critical of the president's actions abroad during the democratic movements that gripped the Middle East.
"I am so distraught about our foreign policy. It is flat-footed. It is late," Mr. Roemer said. Of Mr. Obama, he added: "He has dithered over this no-fly zone for two weeks. It's too late. If you can move quickly to defeat one of the world's known terrorists, wouldn't you do it, without a troop on the ground? He dithered. Inexcusable."
But Mr. Roemer has more trouble finding reasons for criticism on other areas of foreign policy. He said he thought there should be a review of America's role in Afghanistan, something Mr. Obama recently completed. And he says the administration's decisions to pull out gradually from Iraq are correct.
Still, Republicans will be his primary targets over the next several months. Asked about the health care plan Mr. Romney passed as governor in Massachusetts -- which is often compared to the one Mr. Obama championed -- Mr. Roemer said it would be "a factor" in the discussion.
"He'll get a chance to explain it," Mr. Roemer said of Mr. Romney. "He's a good guy. He'll try to put a ribbon on that pig."
Raised in Louisiana as a conservative Democrat, Mr. Roemer served four terms in the House as a Democrat and was elected governor in 1988. He became a Republican in 1991 and lost re-election later that year in a three-way race that included a former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke.
He says he is a champion of gun rights: "Would I take away from that farmer in West Texas his right to have a shotgun? Of course not. Would defend it."
And he calls himself a "traditionalist" on social issues. For example, he says marriage should be between a man and a woman. "Other partnerships are possible," he says, "but it can't be called marriage." But he also says that states should be allowed to allow gay marriage if they choose, a position that may not sit well with some conservative primary voters.
And as much as he casts himself as an idealist, Mr. Roemer is also a pragmatist. Recognizing that his particular brand of Southern politics may not play well in Iowa, he admits he may not campaign much for the state's first-in-the-nation caucus.
Instead, he says he will aim for New Hampshire and South Carolina. "I've got the accent for one," he said, "and the heart for the other."