This story has been updated to reflect a correction in the subject's age. The IDS regrets this error.
Before he joined the pool of Democratic candidates running for the ninth Congressional seat in September, Robert Chatlos hoped to make it as an Independent.
Chatlos, a first-time political candidate who officially started campaigning as an Independent in March, initially said he had little faith in his Democratic opponents’ ability to unseat Republican incumbent Trey Hollingsworth.
“I’m pretty adamant about all of the Democratic candidates,” he said. “They’re not going to win. None of them. I’m sorry.”
Dissatisfied with the line-up of candidates, Chatlos said he began seriously considering a run himself. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it, but it was the first time he acted on it, he said.
“I have spent a good part of my life keeping my mouth shut,” Chatlos said. “Why I’m entering politics after all this time is because I feel like I don’t have a choice.”
Chatlos knew he would be a political outsider from the beginning. His status as an outsider wasn’t just a platform issue — he said he knew his background would raise questions as well.
Unlike the other candidates who made careers in business or law, Chatlos’ background is largely blue-collar.
Chatlos, 46, served in the Air Force after high school. He was discharged after two years so he could help his parents run their Minnesota farm after they were injured in a car accident.
He said he tried to go to school but ran out of money and dropped out. He was never interested in going back.
“I can’t help that I’m smart and that I didn’t go to school,” Chatlos said. “I didn’t feel like I had to go. I did, and I dropped out. If I needed to, I would have. If I wanted to, I would have.”
On paper, Chatlos said he realizes this looks like a disadvantage in comparison to his opponents. He doesn’t see it that way. He said he believes his self-proclaimed intuition and high level of intelligence make up for any academic deficiencies.
“I’m kind of hoping my intelligence will be self-evident,” Chatlos said. “I can show people that wisdom and intelligence and capability aren’t defined by a diploma.”
Campaign manager Brandon Downs, who manages everything in his campaign from events to social media, said, "He's a very dynamic person. He always has new ideas about what he can do better or what he can change. He has a very active mind."
Chatlos also said his experience in blue-collar work, driving as a trucker, makes him a relatable candidate to many ninth-district residents, many of whom work paycheck-to-paycheck, as Chatlos says he does.
“I’ve had the same experiences as people living here,” Chatlos said. “I don’t need to poll them to know they need health care.”
But when it comes to offering detailed solutions for the problems in the ninth district, Chatlos does not offer a lot of detail.
While other candidates outline in detail their proposed solutions for issues including jobs or health care, Chatlos said his candidacy is more "philosophically-driven than policy-driven."
His website lists opinions on issues such as cannabis legalization and the economy but not specific policies. The issues demanding his attention, he said, are larger.
“Unity, election integrity, propaganda on the internet — these should be at the forefront for this election,” Chatlos said. “I will do things that promote that agenda.”
Chatlos said until those issues are resolved, solving smaller issues will be meaningless.
He said the other Democratic candidates often get stuck in the minutia of talking points around smaller issues, such as jobs or policy creation.
“Policy doesn’t mean shit,” Chatlos said.
When asked how he would be able to create policy as a representative, Chatlos said he wasn’t worried about lacking government experience because he would have legislative aides to help him.
He emphasized his natural intellect and intuition. Chatlos said his own life experiences as a gay man would contribute to the way he plans to govern. He mentioned an incident of discrimination he experienced because of his sexual orientation.
“Instead of the civil rights lawyer, why don’t we vote for the guy who needed a civil rights lawyer?” Chatlos said, referring to Democratic candidate Dan Canon and himself. “Why don’t we vote for the guy who got slammed up against a vending machine at work and called a faggot?”
Although he knew he would be an outsider, Chatlos said he grows frustrated with the slow pace of his grassroots campaign.
He switched from an Independent candidate to a Democratic candidate last month, hoping he could reach more people.
Down said he agreed with the choice, although he had been 100 percent on board with the original decision for Chatlos to run as an Independent.
“I think both strategically and also from a political or idealogical standpoint, it made sense to come on board with the Democratic party,” Downs said.
Still, Downs said the campaign fights for any recognition.
While candidates Liz Watson and Dan Canon claim social media pages with thousands of followers, Chatlos' official campaign Facebook page still has yet to reach 500 followers.
“At the beginning, it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise," Downs said.
Chatlos is still in the race, but he said it takes an emotional toll on him.
“I think what frustrates me the most is that the establishment has already dismissed me,” Chatlos said. “I feel patronized at best and ignored otherwise. I’m not their idea of what the process is supposed to produce.”
He said he's frustrated but refuses to quit.
“I think about quitting every day,” Chatlos said. “I wish I had a good reason to quit, but I don’t.”
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