Bernie Sanders Isn't The Only Vermonter Running For President

Jul 31, 2015

You may have heard about a new poll that shows Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders gaining ground in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But you may not have heard about the other Vermonters who are in the race.

Federal campaign filings show at least three other presidential candidates from the Green Mountain State. For one of them, the long-shot campaign all got started by a single question, from a little girl.

Madeline Wood is 8 years old, and the candidate is her father, John Wood.

The Woods live in Fair Haven. One night, John Wood is tucking his daughter into bed, and you know how these conversations go:

“We’re sitting in bed, and we always talk about the stars. She likes astrology, and we talk about art and acting and all that,” John Wood recalls.

But on this night, Madeline wants to talk politics.

“And I asked my dad, do you have to be rich to be the president?”

John Wood says, no, not technically. “You just have to have a very good idea and care about people.”

"I asked my dad, do you have to be rich to be the president?" - Madeline Wood, 8 years old

“And then I said, why don’t you be president?” Madeline says.

Her dad’s response?

“And I’m like, OK, I will.”

The next day, John Wood calls his neighbor, just over the hill in Fair Haven – a woman named Brennyn Molloy – and he’s telling her all this.

“And I’m like, ‘Why’d you say yes?’” Molloy says. “And he’s like, ‘Well, my kid asked me to do something. Now what?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know what, I guess we should look into it.’”

And that’s how Molloy became the John Wood for President 2016 campaign manager.

John Wood has set up a Facebook page, but that may be about it: Wood says he's not even accepting campaign donations.
Credit Alex Keefe / VPR

Molloy says the goal right now is to gather enough signatures to get Wood’s name on the ballot in Vermont – and maybe some neighboring states.

They’ve hit up a local farmers market and local events, but the ground-game is a bit thin.

“We have supporting factors but we’ve spent no money on advertising or marketing,” she says.

They have set up a Facebook page. But that may be about it: Wood says he’s not even accepting campaign donations.

“We don’t want your money. We want your vote,” he says. “That’s what it really is. I mean, I could throw money and have neon signs and all of this, but, do you know the real me? No, you don’t.”

Wood is a good-looking 50-year-old guy – dark hair, dark eyes – a former New York State Park Police officer who’s now a stay-at-home dad to his two girls.

And that “Regular Joe” resume is what seems to drive his campaign.

“We’re not hiring a camera crew or a makeup crew or somebody to write the speeches for us or put things on Facebook,” Wood says. “This is it.”

Wood and Molloy sit down at the kitchen table and pull up a campaign video they shot on a smartphone.

Wood talks into the camera, rattling off his views on different issues:

“It’s really tough when you see somebody in a Wal-Mart and ... They want to buy that little toy for their child and they can’t. You work so hard, and you get a raise, and once you got that raise, you still can’t afford paying your bills.”

"We're not hiring a camera crew or a makeup crew or somebody to write the speeches for us or put things on Facebook." - John Joseph Wood

Wood likes to explain his political beliefs with little anecdotes like this.

He says he’s a registered Democrat, but he doesn’t really fit into a party mold. For example, he supports government-run, universal health care.

But he also stresses the need to lower taxes, and to deport what he called “illegal aliens” in order to save American jobs.

Still, there’s a common theme.

“Why can’t the common person actually run the country, because the common person actually worked the country?”

Wood says his time abroad as a fashion model let him see how the rest of the world views the U.S., not always favorably. Part of his platform is to restore America's standing in the world.
Credit Alex Keefe / VPR

Another theme: Restore America’s standing in the world.

Wood says he gained insight into this from his own work, traveling the globe ... as a fashion model.  

He’s got the photos to prove it. He shows a reporter a photo taken in Italy, and doesn’t deny the claim that he looks like a youthful John Stamos.

“In a 1980s way,” he demurs. “Yes, I’ve gained some weight since then, as you can tell.”

Italy, France, Brazil. Wood says his time abroad let him see how the rest of the world views the U.S., not always favorably.

“Now that I’m on the inside, I can sit there and say, OK, this is America, guys. We’re gonna fix this, and you guys are gonna love us,” he says.

But, wait a minute. Reality check time. No money? No staff? No press operation?

Isn’t this a little crazy? A little quixotic?

Brennyn Molloy says that’s exactly the point.

“Take the money and logic out of chasing your dreams, because ... I don’t like the fact that we take little girls like Maddie, and we tell ‘em, ‘You might have a dream of being a movie star, but honey, nobody makes it. You know, be something logical. Be an accountant,’” Molloy says.

"I don't like the fact that we take little girls like Maddie, and we tell 'em... 'You know, be something logical. Be an accountant.'" - Brennyn Molloy, campaign manager

That's why Wood says success doesn't mean actually getting to the White House.

“Success does not mean you’re a winner. Success means you went for your dreams,” Wood says. “And my daughter can sit there and look at her dad and say, ‘Hey, he was a candidate for the president. He didn’t make it. But he actually went for it.’”

No logic. No money. Just two adults, a little girl, and a presidential race.