Political standards, passion and a bit of hope fuel election underdogs

Zein Obagi Jr. paid a filing fee to get on Tuesday's primary ballot, joined his competitors at a few candidate forums and has been appearing "here and there and sharing what thoughts I can" during the campaign season.

But the 30-year-old attorney has no illusions about his prospects.

"I don't have any expectation" of advancing to the November election, Obagi said in a recent interview.

The West Los Angeles resident is one of scores of political hopefuls who have jumped into big races alongside better known, more experienced and better funded candidates.

Most have worked hard in their uphill battles to get voters' attention — attending neighbors' coffee klatches, knocking on doors and pinning fragile hopes on websites, Facebook and YouTube videos.

Why risk public indifference and election day humiliation?

Some feel passionate about issues they feel are going unaddressed. Some want to help their party by carrying its standard in a long-odds race. More than a few may be driven by vanity and a belief they can offer what others can't.

Then there is the YOLO (you only live once) factor:

"Some run for the sheer adventure of it," said Claremont McKenna political science professor John J. Pitney Jr., a former Republican Party official. "Maybe you won't win, but some day you can tell your grandkids that you ran for Congress."

Many don't realize the difficulty of campaigning, and some believe they can defy the odds.

"Hope springs eternal in the political breast," said longtime Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, and "every once in a while, the unexpected happens."

Former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, 47, readily acknowledges she doesn't have the major campaign money or big-name endorsements bestowed on three of her seven rivals for a seat on the nonpartisan Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

But the self-described attorney/educator/mother said her campaign, dubbed Team Love, has a winning formula for reaching voters: "our phones, our feet, Facebook and tweets."

Money in politics is the problem, she says — a corrupting influence that the wealthy use "to drown out other voices."

She sees her campaign, inspired by a neighbor, as the antidote.

"We want to show there is no barrier; anyone can run, anyone can participate.

"David did not beat Goliath with money," Conley Ulich said. Then she added, with no trace of wistfulness, "You just don't know what is going to happen on Tuesday."

Computer scientist/engineer Jeffrey H. Drobman said his two tries for county supervisor about a quarter-century ago taught him a valuable lesson: Running for office is a way to "get my ideas out there."

Those efforts led to a leadership post with a local Democratic club and a membership in an engineering association.

This year, as an underdog candidate for California secretary of state, he is pushing for online voting and other technological changes that most agree the office has been slow to adopt.