Saturday, May 24, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- And the real threat is Big Brother (3-20-2008)
- Jeff Haney on a presidential hopeful from the Las Vegas Valley (6-11-2007)
By midmorning, Wayne Allyn Root has consumed 50 of the 85 vitamins, herbs, supplements and whatnot he will eat and drink on this spring day. He’s answered dozens of e-mails, pumped iron while watching Fox News, responded to a few of the 25 to 30 media requests he receives weekly in his drive to get richer and to become the Libertarian Party presidential candidate.
His hair is pompadour perfect, his skin tight, his teeth white. It’s the vitamins.
He could be making money, and lots of it, because he’s good at that.
Instead, under his cathedral ceiling in an exclusive Henderson neighborhood, he’s giving voice to the beleaguered.
“Who’s taking care of people who make $100,000 to maybe $400,000 to $500,000 a year who own a small business, or who are an independent contractor, real estate broker, stock broker, mortgage broker, insurance broker? The heart of America. Every insurance broker I know, every stockbroker, real estate broker, they all made $300,000 to $400,000 a year the last five years. Guess what they’re going to make this year: under 100.”
Root, the Las Vegas oddsmaker who’s dubbed himself the “King of Vegas,” will seek the Libertarian Party presidential nod at the party’s convention this weekend in Denver, a city whose government has violated Libertarian principles by outlawing drugs and prostitution and guaranteeing fast-food workers a minimum wage.
Root’s candidacy has always been a long shot. Third parties don’t win national elections and Root has a geographical problem: Americans don’t trust Vegas for much other than a fair bet and an overpriced drink. Root not only has been honored with a gold star on the Strip walk of fame, he’s also the very essence of Vegas, a man who’s made a small fortune selling advice about sports betting.
Also, his candidacy took a heavy blow recently. Long considered a favorite for the nomination, he was sucker-punched.
Former Congressman Bob Barr jumped into the fray. Barr, like Root, is an ex-Republican, and is a star among some hard-core political junkies, the principled libertarians who condemned President Bush when his government began tapping phones without warrants and employing interrogation techniques that seemed a little too much like torture.
(Barr also appeared in the movie “Borat,” though he didn’t seem to enjoy his cameo.)
So now our man Root is the underdog, which is right where he wants to be.
He says he’s been the underdog his entire life. “I’m an SOB, son of a butcher,” he says, again. (He’s an SOB, son of a butcher — did he mention that?)
Root’s betting philosophy is based on going against conventional wisdom: If everyone on talk radio and in the newspapers thinks the Yankees will win, bet against them. “If you can win 55 percent of bets you’ll double your money every 120 bets. You can make a fortune.”
Root and his wife, Debra, a former Miss Oklahoma, and their four children live in a manse with Italian touches. The children have a private tutor and are learning multiple languages.
A Sun photo of Root from 1999 says it all: Root standing on a Hummer in front of his home, surveying the city in wraparound sunglasses, his stance and mien those of a victorious field general.
Inside, the house is like the Church of Root, with framed magazine and newspaper stories about his Rootness covering the walls.
Root likes to depict himself as a tough Jewish kid from the hardscrabble streets of New York, raised in tough Mount Vernon, just outside New York City.
Gambling was a big part of life, and Root was the kid in high school, he says, “who cleaned out all the other kids.”
This may have endangered his well-being some. Root took up physical fitness. “I grew up in a very rough neighborhood in New York. It seemed like wherever I went I was in trouble with somebody,” he says, huffing and puffing while riding an exercise bike. He took up weights, fitness, boxing.
He became a popular kid. “I was a star.”
For Root, this is a story with societal relevance.
“I think it would do American kids good to develop the same philosophy. All you ever hear about is bullying in school, and I’m a witness. You get bullied day and night if you’re weak. Once you’re strong no one ever bullies you again.”
He’s put his finger on the problem with weaklings: They’re weak.
Back in those days, a local newspaper called him the “next Jimmy the Greek,” referring to the famous oddsmaker who eventually disgraced himself with some ugly racism.
“Within six years, I was on national TV with Jimmy the Greek.”
Like any great American success story, Root has created a carapace of legend around himself, the truth of which is a little hard to know. But it’s compelling and deeply entertaining, which is why Root is so good on TV and thinks he can deliver more votes than any Libertarian in history. (The Root Experience can also be exhausting, like being the straight man on the stage of a filibuster infomercial in which Wayne Allyn Root is selling Wayne Allyn Root and Wayne Allyn Root-affiliated awesomeness.)
Back in the ’80s, Root sent out audition tapes of himself to hundreds of TV stations before getting a callback from an early version of CNBC. Soon he was on the air as a gambling analyst while selling his betting tips and writing books about gambling.
He gave some of his money to powerful Republicans, evidenced by photos in Root’s mighty home office showing him with presidents and governors. (Having left the two-party influence-peddling game, he now calls campaign contributions “bribes.”)
He laid out some political philosophy in a self-help tome called “Millionaire Republican: Why Rich Republicans Get Rich — and How You Can Too!” (Plenty of used copies available on Amazon.)
Here’s an excerpt from the introduction: “Wealth is amazing, magical, wondrous, life-enhancing, life-affirming and life-changing.”
No doubt. Root’s life of riches sounds heavenly, a word with figurative and literal meaning here, given that Root now calls himself a “completed Jew.” He’s accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, he says, and his wife is an evangelical Christian.
So why don’t all Americans achieve the heavenly life of Wayne Allyn Root?
Wait for it ... it’s the liberals.
This includes Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who graduated from Columbia University the same year as Root. But Root says the two never met in college, insinuating that maybe Obama didn’t actually graduate from Columbia. (The Sun checked. Obama’s Columbia degree is genuine.)
Root brought down the house at a Sparks conservative conference last year with an impressive display of shiv-in-the-gut political rhetoric. He’s a natural.
He told the gathered legions to take out their wallets: “I promise to stay the hell out of there,” he said to cheers and laughter.
The crowd’s money, he said, “doesn’t belong to people sitting on a couch watching Judge Judy and personal injury lawyer ads. That’s Democratic voters: Hopeless, helpless, aimless and dependent on government!”
The crowd, angry about the Democrats’ 2006 victories, loved it and basked in the communal outrage. Of course, if Root’s statement were true, Judge Judy deserves a significant raise. Nearly 60 million people voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004, most of them gainfully employed, some even richer than Root. Democrats now dominate in high-income places that were once Republican bastions, such as Silicon Valley, long recognized as one of the most entrepreneurial regions of the country.
Root walks right up to the decency line, and occasionally hops over it — with gusto. Of victims of Hurricane Katrina, he said: “Their mouths were open and their hands were out and they were praying for Mama Bird to throw something in there.”
That fits neatly with something he told The New York Times last year: “Guilt? I don’t have any guilt. I think zero about why things are. I just accept what they are and find a way to take advantage of them.”
In another instance of rhetorical fun, he blasted away in a letter to the editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “I realize in most political polls only about 20 percent of the electorate consider taxes the most important issue. Do you know why? Because the top 20 percent has almost 100 percent of the tax burden.”
No, not really. The Congressional Budget Office says the top quintile pays about two-thirds of the total federal tax pie, its relative portion having risen since 1980, but largely because incomes of the wealthy have ballooned while those of most wage earners have stagnated.
But it’s not clear Root is all that concerned with what’s true and what’s not anyway.
After all, Root’s theory of betting is that winning 55 percent — being right 55 percent of the time — can make a person a fortune, so it stands to reason he believes being right 55 percent of the time can also bring him political glory.
And indeed, this run for the presidency may be just an extension of his business. He likes to use press interviews to rail against a major impediment to more Root wealth: The Internet gambling ban. His presidential run continues to run up his name ID on daytime TV and talk radio, which are surely founts of sports bettors.
If the campaign is just a way to drum up business, he really is the perfect candidate for the Libertarian Party. A founding tract of the movement, after all, is Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness.”
The party deserves a man who cares about himself, his family and his money, and very little else.
Sun photographer Tiffany Brown contributed to this story.