The Associated Press
CHEBOYGAN, Mich. -- John Ramsey greets voters at his campaign office with a handshake, a free hot dog -- and a book that declares he didn't kill his daughter.
The father of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty queen strangled in her Boulder, Colo., home, is running for the Michigan House, despite the suspicions that continue to hang over him and his wife.
But Ramsey is not running away from the issue. In fact, he talks about JonBenet all along the campaign trail -- in his announcement speech, in fliers, in a TV ad to be aired before the Aug. 3 primary.
"I'm running because I believe something good can come from both my professional success -- and the personal tragedy our family has survived," the 60-year-old Republican says in the television spot.
He is received politely by voters, and if they think he is guilty -- or if they think he is exploiting the tragedy to launch a political career -- they do not say so to his face.
Ramsey and his wife, Patsy, were never charged in JonBenet's killing, and the district attorney and a federal judge in Colorado have said it is likelier that an intruder was responsible, as the parents insist.
The Ramseys have had a summer place since 1992 in Charlevoix, a Lake Michigan tourist town about 230 miles northwest of Detroit, and became full-time residents last fall. Ramsey announced his candidacy last month, transforming an ordinary legislative race into a People magazine story.
Ramsey -- one of six hopefuls vying for the nomination -- said his unwanted notoriety has given him name recognition he would put to good use in promoting economic growth in the countryside and small towns in the district.
He campaigns as an anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay-marriage conservative and a savvy businessman. He founded Access Graphics, a billion-dollar software company later acquired by Lockheed Martin.
Copies of "The Death of Innocence," John and Patsy Ramsey's version of the mysterious slaying, are displayed on a campaign office table. A campaign flier includes a letter that begins, "On Christmas night, 1996, my family experienced a parent's worst nightmare: the death of our youngest child."
Scott Ingersoll, a lawyer running for Cheboygan County prosecutor, said Ramsey has no choice but to address the JonBenet matter head-on: "His job is to go out there and dispel the notion that he murdered his daughter."
"Your average person has an innate ability to determine whether he's sincere or not. Sometimes that determines a winner from a loser," Ingersoll said.
On a recent day of campaigning, the Ramseys and several aides piled into their mobile headquarters -- a 31-foot motor home with couch, refrigerator, bed, microwave, television and bathroom with shower -- and headed for the Lake Huron town of Cheboygan.
The Ramseys discussed the murder case, expressing optimism that a DNA sample taken from JonBenet's underwear will identify the killer.
"We can't just hold our breath and hope the killer will be found and then go on with our lives," Patsy Ramsey said. "We have to move ahead now. We can't let evil win."
Clipboard in hand, Ramsey strode down a street in Cheboygan lined with shade trees and single-story houses.
"Hi, I'm John Ramsey, running for the state House," he said to those who answered his knock.
They smiled, accepted his flier, promised to look it over. After he was gone, they offered mixed reactions.
"I try to vote on what's good for me, my family and my workplace," said Tammy Ramus, 39, a dietary aide at a hospital. "If he does the right thing, he's got my vote."
What about JonBenet? "At some point that's going to have to be put behind that poor family," Ramus said.
Dan Frazier, 45, a police officer, said he has not made up his mind about Ramsey but added: "I hope he's not ... just using the child's name for publicity. That would be a real tragedy."
Rich Adams, editor of the Cheboygan Daily Tribune, said that he has received no letters about the JonBenet case, and that most of the reaction has been of the "sick humor variety."
Mayor Jim Muschell said some remain skeptical: "There's still uncertainty and people are disturbed about some of the circumstances that came out in the investigation."