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“I got people to vote for Obama in the last election by saying he was a socialist,” said Kevin Akin, the interim chairman of the Peace and Freedom Alliance, the national branch of the leftist, California-based Peace and Freedom Party. “Unfortunately, his actions since taking office have given us very little reason to believe that.

“When we hear Republicans call him one, it makes us roll our eyes. We want to support someone who is the real thing.”

Politics as unusual

The Libertarians. The Greens. The Communist Party USA. The United States Marijuana Party. The Boston Tea Party (not to be confused with the actual historical event, nor the general tea party political movement). The Jedi Party (based in Louisiana; membership, 12).

From the neo-Nazis to the old school Socialists, the Modern Whigs (yes, really) to whatever Lyndon LaRouche is calling his followers these days, the nation is home to dozens of minor parties, each with its own political philosophy and pressing set of pet issues.

Case in point No. 1: Green Party presidential primary contender Roseanne Barr — yep, that Roseanne Barr — is for single-payer health care, eliminating corporate personhood, jailing Wall Street miscreants, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, getting rid of the Electoral College and treating nonviolent drug abusers instead of jailing them. Announcing her candidacy on “The Tonight Show,” she said that she would not run as either a Republican or Democrat because both parties “suck and they’re both a bunch of criminals.”

Case in point No. 2: Mr. LaRouche is for constructing the aforementioned Martian outpost, which he considers a moral imperative, and for ending the tyranny of Mr. Obama, whom he insists is neither Socialist, Marxist nor Kenyan neo-anti-colonialist, but rather the brainwashed puppet of the British Empire — and who knew the British still had an empire?

Case in point No. 3: The New York City-based Rent is 2 Damn High Party — founded by karate expert and Vietnam War veteran Jimmy McMillan, who has run for mayor three times and received 40,000 votes in the state’s 2010 gubernatorial election — is inalterably opposed to, well, rent being too damn high.

Despite their differences, alternative parties have one thing in common: They’re mostly marginalized, the lingerie football game counter-programmed opposite halftime of the two-party Super Bowl.

Accordingly, political life is different on the fringe.

Consider Bill Hammond. Four years ago, the Colorado resident and Unity Party national chairman ran for Congress. Crisscrossing his district in a hybrid SUV to collect the 800 signatures required to appear on the electoral ballot, knocking on doors in 37 communities, he found himself practicing literal retail politics — standing outside grocery stores stumping for a balanced federal budget and replacing income tax with a carbon tax.

Enduring rain, cold and countless funny looks, Mr. Hammond eventually collected 1,245 signatures, 899 of them valid. His hard-won advice? If you don’t have a Las Vegas casino-owning billionaire filling the coffers of your super PAC, it helps to have a friendly dog.

“I have a 60-pound white boxer named Jack,” Mr. Hammond said. “He was a great asset, a nice icebreaker. One morning at a farmer’s market, I left him in my truck. I wasn’t getting any signatures. I had to go back and get him.

“The other thing I learned gathering signatures was to always make sure the page you show has at least two signatures already. If somebody sees a blank page, they ask why. That’s the first hurdle. I always made sure one of my friends would sign the top page.”

American elections follow the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, rules. While the Democrats and Republicans are expected to spend more than $6 billion on the upcoming elections, carpet-bombing the airwaves with slick television ads, third parties get by with the equivalent of couch cushion spare change.

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