Mohammad Arif can't catch a break. Seven years ago, his quest for the governorship was derailed by an action-movie hero and 133 other characters on that colorful, circusy ballot, all supposedly trying to replace about-to-be-recalled Gov. Gray Davis.

Now Arif, a Bakersfield entrepreneur, is up against two billionaires and a former governor -- as well as 19 others. At least his odds are improving.

As if the size of the field weren't enough of a challenge, however, Arif just realized that his name has been misspelled on the official voter Information guide that the Secretary of State's office mails out to millions of California households. The pamphlet has him listed as Mohammed, not Mohammad. "If you Google 'Mohammed Arif,'" complained Arif, "you won't find me. You'll find the bad ones."

By "the bad ones," Arif means "the wrong ones," but unfortunately there are at least a couple of "bad" Mohammed Arifs out there. One was convicted last week of jihadist attacks in western India in violation of that nation's Prevention Of Terrorism Act.

That would be an unfortunate coincidence in any setting, but Bakersfield's Arif is a Peace & Freedom Party candidate. He didn't choose that party because of the melodic name. He chose it because it means something to him.

"War is a waste of America's resources," said Arif, who is 41. "I am kind of a modern Muslim. The teaching of Islam is that you belong to where you are. The people who are doing all this violence (in the name of Islam) are sick."

It's partly because of the threat of terrorism that Arif holds fast to this pillar: America must develop a coherent immigration strategy. "Secure the borders," he said. "Secure the loopholes."

Thing is, that position doesn't jibe with what the League of Women Voters listed as his position in its Easy Voter Guide pamphlet: "Free immigration."

"It was supposed to say 'fear-free immigration,' not 'free immigration,'" Arif said. "I would not suggest we remove all barriers."

So, what is this, then? Some kind of plot? "They are just innocent mistakes, but it's frustrating," said Arif, who was born in Lahore, Pakistan, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1991, and then moved from Culver City to Bakersfield last year.

For the record, the misspelled name appears only in the the voter information guide, according to the Secretary of State's Office. It's spelled correctly on ballots, including those that have already gone out to absentee voters, and it's been fixed in the online voter guide. Spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said Arif had plenty of time to flag the error but missed his three-week window of opportunity.

As for the League of Women Voters pamphlet, Linda Davis, the state LWV's vice president for voter service, provided a copy of the electronic document Arif e-mailed on or about March 15, and it reads "free immigration." So, let's settle it this way: If you've got a copy of the Easy Voter Guide, grab it and scribble "fear" in the appropriate spot on page 7. And no, I don't mean next to Barbara Boxer's photo.

Arif, who makes a living selling imported merchandise on eBay (hold the Meg Whitman jokes, please), admits that friends and acquaintances have asked him why he didn't launch his political career with less lofty goals.

"People laugh and say, 'Why don't you run for mayor?'" he said. "'Why don't you run for Assembly?' I say, 'Because this is America. Before, I was nothing. If I were living in Pakistan or India, I would not be able to run for (city) councilor. Here I run for governor -- twice."

Back in October 2003, running as an independent in the special election, Arif got 1,709 votes statewide, including 21 in Kern, for 46th place. (For those keeping score at home, David Laughing Horse Robinson of Bakersfield finished with 6,496 votes for 15th. They both trailed porn model Mary Carey, who placed 10th in that memorably silly campaign.)

Arif (find him at calgov2010.com) isn't the only Central Valley political candidate aiming higher than prudence might recommend. I won't name names, but you'll find over-their-head folks in races all across the valley. Some might even win, "because this is America."

For now, Arif need only outpoll his rivals for the P&F nomination: Stewart A. Alexander, who was the Socialist Party USA's 2008 vice-presidential nominee, and Carlos Alvarez, a 23-year-old grocery worker and antiwar activist. Here's hoping he advances to the next level and writes another chapter in his uniquely American story. Hopefully, his name will be spelled correctly.

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