New Hampshire holds its presidential primary “first in the nation,” which means candidates spend more time in the Granite State than they would otherwise. I watch U.S. politics closely, so I was shocked when I saw a name that I had never seen before on a list of candidates. “Who the hell is that,” I thought, “and why is he speaking at the same event as Carly Fiorina?” I was convinced I knew every candidate in this election, Republican or Democrat. A web search revealed that the man exists, and is indeed running for President. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore has been routinely garnering between 0 and less than 1 percent in every poll. In most polls, he's not even mentioned.

I obsessed over the idea. Who runs for president while consistently polling at 0 percent? Given a margin of error, my roommates could poll higher in the U.S. presidential election than him. Why would someone choose to subject himself to this? This is a man who was an intelligence officer in the military, an attorney general, the governor of Virginia, the chair of the Republican National Committee—and yet the Orient has more Twitter followers than he does. I had to meet him.

Dover, New Hampshire is about 90 minutes away from Brunswick and frequently hosts presidential candidates. Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and anyone else who is waging a halfway-decent campaign has rallied there and probably will again before the February primary. Carly Fiorina was headlining the free pasta dinner event, followed by former New York Governor George Pataki—who I at least knew was running—and then Governor Gilmore was scheduled to speak last, because, well, of course he was.  

It was an intimate soiree—some 200 people gathered in the function hall for the “Red Rally,” where the lights, dinner tables, balloons, chocolates, clothing, and even pasta was themed Republican red. I stood off in a corner, by the autographed books of Anne Coulter and Ted Cruz, Googling “Jim Gilmore” on my phone so I could remember what he looked like. I spotted him near the back of the room sitting next to who looked to be his campaign manager.

She got up and walked over near me, frantic and nervous. She grasped the pens next to the autographed books, looked at them, and then guiltily put them back, saying she needed a pen but felt bad stealing. “You didn’t bring a pen?” I asked the presumed campaign head. “No…,” she said, embarrassed. 

I bargained to lend my pen to his state campaign director in exchange for an interview with the governor. She eagerly agreed, snapped up my pen, and scurried back to her seat with the governor. Their table had four Fiorina supporters and four elderly and seemingly disinterested people wearing Gilmore stickers. He had only been the star of a few stories over the past months, mostly about his indignation over his exclusion from debates, and, ironically, about his lack of coverage. 

Fiorina was introduced as the “next president of the United States.” She gave a lengthy speech, mostly drawing from lines I’d see her use in debates and interviews, and was so popular that the event hosts asked her to come back up and talk about her similarities with Margaret Thatcher. Fiorina was the clear reason for the night—everyone else was supplementary. I stood near the governor’s table, eating my plate of genuinely decent ziti alla vodka, when I was approached by a New Hampshire television reporter. 

She asked if I were with the Gilmore campaign, or if I were a member of the New Hampshire Young Republicans. I explained I was neither. She slumped her shoulders, disheartened, and then whispered her question to me.

“Okay, well do you know what this Jim Gilmore guy looks like, and where he might be in this room?” 

Gilmore is only campaigning in New Hampshire. His press relations were more dismal than I could’ve expected. The newscaster was holding his campaign literature, some of which was on black and white printer paper, hand cut with scissors. Not to mention his staff lacked basic office supplies and stole my pen, a campaign donation I have not disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

I halfheartedly pointed out Gilmore to her and plodded back to the media circle to see the other camera crews packing up. Half the room had left now that Fiorina was done and Pataki was speaking. I sat next to a national cable news cameraman and asked about how they cover candidates. “Sure, we care about all the candidates...but for what it’s worth, I’m leaving now,” he said. 

I brooded alone in the now-emptied media circle, eating more Republican-themed pasta as Strafford County Republicans and local party hacks traded the microphone around. Three hours into the event, he was given the most irreverent, underwhelming possible introduction: “Jim Gilmore, why don’t you come up and say hi?” It sounded like he was running for Dover dogcatcher. 

But once he took the microphone, I quickly began to understand why Gilmore has had such an illustrious career. He’s everything the Republican Party should want. He’s a plain-spoken governor with a southern drawl—a military veteran with a background in executive leadership and national security. He wants lower taxes. He talks about character, principle, devotion to country, and looking people in the eye. 

Gilmore is clearly no amateur, but it’s not easy to try to climb up after a decade-long fall from relevance. He harped on the “establishment press in combination with the big deals in Washington DC,” who had denied him a spot on the most recent debate stage, again. He’s the kind of guy who never uses abbreviations or acronyms, always speaking with intensity.

The people that remained came to life as he talked about his military experience, the national security crisis, his support of veterans and contempt for regulation. He vowed to veto gun control “faster than Hillary Clinton can delete an email.” The crowd quietly roared in crescendo.

He finished his speech with unwavering passion and humbly asked for votes. Gilmore sat back down, pestering his state director for how long he’d spoken and how that compared to Pataki and Fiorina. She mumbled inaudibly and he looked frustrated. The event ended, and I now had my time to speak with him. 

He came over after taking a few pictures, looking dismayed that I, an uncredentialed college kid in a cheap tweed jacket, was his media coverage. He sat like he hadn’t sat in days, crashing his fists on the red-clothed table full of half-empty wine glasses and dirty dinner plates. 

Gilmore conceded that the election has been hard and will be an uphill battle, to say the least. I was jarred by the fact that he has to frame sentences with “when I’m president,” because it felt like I was breaking the news to him that his campaign wasn’t exactly gripping the nation.

He was quick to reiterate what he believes are his strengths: his qualifications and experience. I pointed out that Scott Walker and Lincoln Chafee dropped out already and they had more of everything—dollars, staffers, percentage points in polls, pens. He pointed to his lack of name recognition as just making him the candidate with the most room to grow, which to me sounded like saying “I’m not short, I just have the most height to achieve.” 

He counted his entire campaign staff on two hands; it took an elongated “uhh” to get from the seventh staffer to the eighth. He leaned in real close when he was being serious. He pointed his finger at me when making important points. He told me when to write things down. 

It’s been three weeks since I met Gilmore. And despite the recent emphasis on national security giving his experience its best shot at being considered important, little has changed, though he did poll around 2 percent in one poll, one time. While the primary is a few months away, I feel confident predicting that Jim Gilmore will not be the next President of the United States.

I’m not a Republican, and I disagree with Gilmore on pretty much every issue other than our mutual belief that the Trump campaign exemplifies “fascist talk,” but something about his campaign is wonderfully quixotic and beautifully tragic. What motivates someone to run for president when they have absolutely no chance, when no one will even listen? I had to ask. 

“Because I’m the best person to be the president. I’ve always loved my country and served my country so now we’ve arrived at 2015 and we’re in a lot of trouble,” Gilmore explained. “I have the experience and the credentials to help my country, what do you want me to do? Go home and sit? Pray?”