Seeking Democratic nom, De La Fuente campaigns in-state, in Sitka

While Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton marshaled support in Washington this weekend, a lesser known candidate – Rocky De La Fuente  came to Alaska. De La Fuente was the only presidential hopeful in the state for the democratic caucus. And he brought his campaign – with its dark horse ambitions – to Sitka.

Democratic presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente in Sitka (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW - Sitka)
Democratic presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente in Sitka (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka)

Sixty-one-year old Rocky De La Fuente is the most determined Democratic candidate you’ve never heard of. The Mexican-American businessman filed his candidacy on October 1st, months after Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But it was another candidate who sparked his campaign.

“When Mr. Trump called everyone every name in the book, I was expecting to have a world wide contra reaction,” De La Fuente said. “I was expecting the President of the U.S., the president of Argentina, there wasn’t one person who said A, B, or C. So the question is I said, somebody has to stand to that man.”

Trump’s affront on the Latin-American community inspired De La Fuente. But the two men are similar in a few ways: both are wealthy businessmen with no political experience who want to shake up the establishment and appeal to working-class Americans. But De La Fuente’s base is very different: immigrants, the homeless, and people of color. He was caucusing in Arizona and met a young girl named Renata, who started crying.

“She says, I won’t be able to see my grandfather. Why not? Somebody’s building a wall,” said De La Fuente.

Immigration reform is at the top of his priority list.

“We have 11 million people in this country that do not have their papers,” De La Fuente said. “I consider those 11 million people assets. I don’t consider them liabilities. They’re here. I didn’t bring them here. But if we’re going to grow this country and we’re going to generate 34 million jobs, I need those 11 million here. I need them working. I need them legal. And I need them to pay taxes.”

De La Fuente is pro-gun and supports the Affordable Care Act, but thinks it needs to be change. He endorses gay marriage and abortion, but thinks states should have the right to choose. He’s an unusual blend of stances. And he thinks it’s enough for him to be an alternative to front runner Hillary Clinton.

“The lady thinks she’s queen,” said De La Fuente. “This is a democracy. This is not a dynasty. Do we have to elect the wife of a president?”

De La Fuente has picked up zero delegates, but as far as fringe candidates go, he’s doing okay. He appeared on more state ballots than former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who withdrew after a poor showing in Iowa.

To his disappointment, though, he did not appear on the ballot in Washington this weekend.

“Even though I qualified for 44 states, in Seattle they put me as other,” De La Fuente said. “So the Democratic Party has said Washington, you cannot vote for this man because he doesn’t exist.”

So, he came to Alaska which he’s visited numerous times on cruise ships  – he even owned a 165-foot catcher-processor out of Dutch Harbor at one point –  and took part in the District 35 caucus. For a state this large in size, there are few delegates up for grabs – just 20. De La Fuente would have needed at least 15% of the room to pick up any. He netted 11 votes, making him not viable. But he seemed undeterred. I asked De La Fuente why he keeps with it, given the odds.

“It’s a 56 kilometer race,” said De La Fuente. “So you cannot judge a race just because somebody is leading the first 10 kilometers or the first 20 kilometers. The question is, “Who is going to cross that finish line?”

De La Fuente’s campaign – which is entirely grassroots – even developed a game called “Rocky Run.” Available on iPhone and Android, De La Fuente is a horse you can pit against horses “Hillary Pigton” and “Don Bulltromp.” With the brush of a finger, you can jump over obstacles.

And his eyes light up when he mentions that the Democratic National Convention will be in Philadelphia. Because as you may have noticed, he shares a name with another underdog, Rocky Balboa.

“All my life, I’ve been an underdog,” De La Fuente said. “All my life, I’m a minority. We have two type of people: we have the hard-working people that work and we have the government that’s trying to do everything they can to stop us. Imagine if  we can all be working with the same objective. And let’s make America ten times greater than what it is today.”

And in his pursuit of greatness, De La Fuente has his eyes on the June 7th primary in California, where he does business in 45 cities. “At least,” he says, “My employees can vote for me.”