As most of the presidential candidates sift through returns from New Hampshire, one of them sits serenely above the fray - in Geneva. Andrew Sundberg shunned the Iowa caucuses, avoided the Granite State hoopla, and plans to sidestep the host of Super Tuesday contests March 8. Instead, he is stumping for president on the Democrats Abroad ticket. He is in search of overseas delegate votes - all nine of them - in a postal primary now under way. The ballots will be counted March 22 in London.
Mr. Sundberg is campaigning on a platform to better the lot of the approximately 3 million American citizens, including military personnel, living abroad. He is a long shot among long shots. London bookmakers have the odds at 2,000 to 1 against his getting the Democratic nomination. And if he manages to get all nine delegates, that's only nine votes of a possible 4,160 that will be cast this summer at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta.
It's hard not to wonder whether this man isn't a latter-day Don Quixote, tilting with political windmills. But the candidate says he is serious about his presidential platform.
``It's not a joke when Americans abroad say we support what you are doing. ... Republicans, too, have asked to raise money for me,'' Sundberg, a Democrat, said on a recent trip to Boston.
Sundberg spent most of his childhood overseas - in the Orient and in Europe - with his father, who was an Air Force officer. He attended the US Naval Academy, studied as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, where he met the French woman he later married, and then completed his required Navy tour of duty. He has lived for the past 20 years in Geneva, where he is a businessman doing consulting work around the world.
The former overseas campaign manager for Walter Mondale looks and acts the part of a prospective president, complete with distinguished gray hair, a steady gaze, and a firm handshake.
``It would be a joke if for the last 12 years I had done nothing. But I've sweated in the trenches to help US citizens living overseas,'' he says.
``The direction the US is going in is harmful to the US and to other countries. These countries don't understand why we don't take a leadership role.''
Sundberg has a 14-point program to aid overseas Americans, which includes:
Simplifying citizenship requirements for American children born abroad.
Providing medicare for Americans living overseas.
Creating a delegate in the US Congress to represent US overseas citizens.
Providing assistance to American scholars and teachers working abroad.
Insulating military personnel abroad from fluctuations in their standard of living because of rapid changes in the value of the US dollar.
``I find it demeaning for my country to be so coldhearted to its citizens,'' Sundberg says. He urges this writer to consider the need for trade reform and relief for third-world debt.
He is unimpressed with the current crop of presidential hopefuls.
``I have talked with the leaders of many countries. There is a feeling that a neo-know-nothingness is emerging in the Democratic Party, combined with a sense of retreat,'' he said. ``I tried to talk with the candidates about the concerns of Americans abroad. The candidates weren't interested.''
Sundberg levels some of his harshest criticism at Rep. Richard Gephardt, who most political observers agree won the Iowa caucuses largely on the basis of his position on international trade.
``Gephardt wants to expose our citizens overseas to a double taxation far harsher than they have ever had before. He wants to do away with the $70,000 deduction in earned income. Trade performance would be hurt and the deficit could be doubled if he were elected,'' Sundberg says.
Sundberg is realistic about the astronomical odds against his getting the nomination - and the cosmic odds against his being elected. Still he daydreams.
``When I compare my qualifications with those of the candidates running for president, I don't feel inferior. Where is it written that you must sit in Washington or a state capital to be president?''
He says he has a cause he believes in and by running for president he has the world's biggest soapbox at his disposal.