OREM Unconventional candidate Jeremy Friedbaum broke up the monotony of the gubernatorial debates, and then he broke bread to end a nearly 40-day hunger strike.
Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt and Democratic challenger Bill Orton had long left the Utah Valley State College ballroom stage Wednesday when the forum's most dramatic, though odd, moment occurred.
Raising a goblet filled with homemade grape juice he had squeezed that morning, weeping third-party candidate Jeremy Friedbaum cried "L'chaim, God" before he gingerly sipped the purple nectar. Then he choked down a small piece of a classic Italian bun he bought at Subway on the way to the campus. "It (the bun) looked good on television," he shrugged later.
Friedbaum, 45, a member of the ultraconservative Independent American Party, had starved himself since Sept. 8 to protest being excluded from the dozen scheduled gubernatorial debates. The UVSC student association invited him after getting pressure from the campus newspaper to do so. Friedbaum received 1 percent of the vote in the latest Deseret News poll.
"I had a right to be in all 12 debates," said Friedbaum, who ran an unsuccessful congressional campaign as a Republican in 1998.
The final gubernatorial debate was to be held Thursday morning at the Capitol. Friedbaum was not invited.
Living on only herbal tea and vitamins the past six weeks, he dropped 50 pounds. He looked tired, and his dark gray suit hung loosely on his drooping shoulders. He said it took all the strength he could muster to walk up the stairs in his Provo home the past few days.
"I certainly don't want to do it ever again," he said. "I'm just happy to have lived."
Though UVSC sophomore Daniel Taylor said he could appreciate Friedbaum's fasting, he wasn't impressed with the spectacle Friedbaum made of himself in front of the TV news cameras.
"I was interested in his issues as a candidate but when he started crying, it turned me off," Taylor said.
The debate itself, which focused mostly on higher and public education issues, was rather lackluster. Candidates responded to pre-screened questions and weren't allowed rebuttal time. Orton and Leavitt brought out their usual points, while indulging Friedbaum, the grandson of a Jewish rabbi and convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he espoused his mix of politics and religion. He also took shots at Orton and Leavitt, chiding Orton for going after the Utah Education Association endorsement only to find out "the UEA had already bought and paid for a governor (Leavitt)."
Student Lisa Rogers, a junior, liked some of what she heard from Leavitt and Orton but said neither one of them seemed to provide direct answers to questions.
Some of the several hundred students crammed into the ballroom didn't quite know what to make of Friedbaum.
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