A desperate America seeking distraction from an ugly political climate may have found a new sweetheart. He is Kenneth Bone, an undecided voter in a bright red sweater.
Whether that affection will last once he makes up his mind remains to be seen. In an interview with The New York Times, he revealed how he is now leaning.
Bone, 34, an operator at a coal plant in Illinois, was one of the undecided voters selected to ask a question at the town hall debate broadcast live on Sunday night. He offered a contrast to the presidential candidate’s combative tone when he asked a straightforward policy query near the end of the 90-minute live broadcast.
“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job layoffs?” he asked.
Judging by comments on social media, many of those who tuned in found Bone to be the most diverting thing about the debate. They were delighted with his sweater, and images of him snapping pictures on a disposable camera shortly after the event.
Journalists and commentators flooded Twitter with memes, depicting Bone crossing the Delaware with George Washington, as a rapper or basis for the perfect Halloween costume. A YouTube song celebrated him (“Oh Kenneth Bone, you make us all feel less alone in this bizarro phantom zone in the darkest of timelines”), while others cautioned that he might wear out his welcome, like an election edition of Chewbacca Mom.
In a phone interview Monday morning, Bone said that he had been leaning toward voting for Donald Trump, but that Hillary Clinton “really impressed me with her composure and some of her answers last night.”
He said that he was “a bit let down” by the personal attacks that dominated the early part of the debate.
Asked about which attacks he had in mind, Bone said, “There were a lot from both sides, but I feel like Mr. Trump did a lot more of the talking over and the personal attacks.”
“I would have liked to see less of that and more on the issues,” he added.
Bone said that he would decide once and for all after the final debate, on Oct. 19.
He also provided some insight into how undecided voters are found for such events, saying that he has been a participant in the Gallup poll for the last several years, and that he received a call about a week ago asking whether he was firmly committed to a presidential candidate.
When he said he was not, he was told that he could be considered to participate. Bone said that several dozen undecided voters from the St. Louis area were eventually chosen.
“I was excited to be a part of the political process and show people that their voices are being heard,” he said.
He was not nervous beforehand, even though he experienced a wardrobe malfunction earlier in the day. In an interview with CNN, Bone explained that his red sweater, the object of plenty of affection on social media, had not been his first option. He had planned to wear an olive suit.
“Apparently I’ve gained about 30 pounds,” he told CNN, “and when I went to get in my car the morning of the debate, I split the seat of my pants all the way open. So the red sweater is Plan B and I’m glad it worked out.”
The attention has been overwhelming. Bone has been flooded with interview requests. He received hundreds of Facebook friend requests, and his Twitter following mushroomed (he is @kenbone18; the others are fakes).
In his everyday life, Bone regularly works 12-hour shifts sitting in the control room of a coal-fired power plant. He said that while energy from coal is “near and dear to our hearts,” that he and his co-workers “recognize the need to be environmentally responsible.”
With his question he had been hoping to “spark a debate about subsidies for environmental controls for older coal–fired power plants.”
“I’m just glad I was able to spark the energy debate a little bit, it was kind of getting overlooked,” he said.
He said that his fellow undecided voters were “all very well-educated, well-thought-out people who just haven’t quite made their decision yet.”
“I try to focus less on the negatives and more on the positives,” he added. “And there haven’t been enough positives on either side for me to make a firm commitment.”