When Doris Haddock finishes a speech, you find yourself wishing she'd run for president, or something. True, at age 89, with 11 great-grandchildren, she's off to a rather late start.
And she'll be the first to tell you she's not running for anything these days, but walking -- 10 miles a day -- with a very specific goal in mind. Granny D, as she is called, is walking across the country in order to make the point that big money has corrupted our political process, and it's time that we pushed through some reforms to set things right.
On her stops along the way, she uses the growing media interest in her quest to spread her message about campaign-finance reform far and wide, and it seems as if it may just be starting to catch on.
Ever since New Year's Day, nine months ago now, when she left Pasadena, Calif., and headed on foot toward Washington, Haddock has been attracting crowds wherever she goes.
The Reform Party, recognizing her appeal, convinced her to take a break from her itinerary a couple weeks ago and fly up to Michigan for its convention.
Her message to one and all is straightforward. "There can be no true equality in America so long as only the rich are represented at the table of power," she told Salon. "That is no democracy. There can be no true justice in America so long as only the privileged make the rules and build the jails for those outside the rooms of power. That is no democracy."
Current law technically limits politicians to donations of $1,000 or less from individuals, but candidates use loopholes, such as political action committees and other "soft money" vehicles, to get around the limits and fund their campaigns.
In response, Haddock supports the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill, which will be voted on this fall in the Senate. That bill would prohibit all soft money contributions to the national political parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.
In turn, presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the sponsors of the bill, supports Haddock. "I'm proud of her," said Sen. McCain. "It tells me that I have to do a better job of making connections to Americans, the way Granny D does."
Recently, Haddock crossed from Bush territory (Texas) into Clinton country (Arkansas), and she's right on schedule to make it to Washington, by Jan. 24, 2000 -- her 90th birthday.
Haddock says of Bush: "We don't know anything about his ideals or what he stands for. Apparently he stands for being able to raise a lot of money."
When Bill Clinton and Al Gore came to Little Rock recently as part of the kickoff for Gore 2000, Haddock stood in front of the Statehouse Convention Center in quiet protest of Gore's unwillingness to reject soft money.
In Little Rock, Haddock also spoke at Central High School, site of the 1957 integration crisis, as well as in a church pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in the 1960s.
The congregation initially eyed Haddock with some skepticism, but by the time she was finished speaking, they were cheering and surrounding her to snap photos and seek her autograph.
Thanks to Granny D, no one left that church unaware of the evils of soft money and PACs.
Haddock decided last year that she would make this odyssey across the land to dramatize her concern about the corruption of our political system.
Her model for this action was a woman known as the Peace Pilgrim, who walked seven times across the United States between 1948 and 1958 to publicize the need for global peace.
Each day, Peace Pilgrim walked until she was given shelter, and fasted until she was given food -- an MO Haddock has also adopted.
Haddock trained for her mission by hiking 10 miles a day with a 25-pound pack on her back. She learned to sleep on the ground, and her children gave her a cellular phone to use in case of any trouble.
But she need not have worried about being alone or unknown on her walk. Instead, she's well along the road to becoming a folk hero in a political year when the front-running candidates are so boring that such unlikely figures as Warren Beatty and Donald Trump are openly pondering making their own presidential runs.
Along the road each day as she hikes, truckers honk, and at night, strangers open their homes to Haddock. She now uses the cell phone mainly to spread her message across the radio airwaves.
Common Cause, the nonpartisan Washington-based watchdog group that monitors campaign spending, hopped aboard the Granny D bandwagon a few months ago.
Accordingly, she now has a polished spokesman on hand to handle the media, and a van that drives slowly along behind her during the current summer heatwave carrying a cooler full of bottled water.
Of course, Haddock has a Web site, which serves as a guide to the campaign finance reform issue. Haddock urges others to walk their own 10 miles as well.
Her Web site tells supporters to show solidarity by first walking and then sending their walking shoes to a U.S. representative or senator whose name appears on "Granny's list of Campaign Finance Reform Foot-Draggers."
The more miles Haddock racks up, the more pointed her message becomes -- that large sums of campaign money are "obscene" when children are without health care and the elderly have to eat pet food. The crowds at her speeches grow bigger and the cheers get louder.
You might be forgiven for thinking she that once her walk is finished, she may decide the next thing is to take a run -- for public office.