Fringe Presidential Candidates Complain They Are Pushed Aside Eugene McCarthy's Upset of President Johnson in 1968 Frequently Cited as Proof That an Unknown Can Sometimes Make Big Difference. US POLITICS

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DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate Larry Agran arrives by car at a campaign event on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, quickly abandons his search for an umbrella, and dashes across the lonely parking lot in the rain.

It isn't always bright and sunny on the campaign path for president of the United States. But it's especially dreary for lesser-known candidates, like Mr. Agran, to compete against the five major Democratic hopefuls now campaigning in earnest before the Granite State's Feb. 18 primary.

Agran, former mayor of Irvine, Calif., has been campaigning hard ever since he set up headquarters here in the Granite State last fall and claims he's just as serious as any one of the "major" candidates. He is already on the primary ballot in 27 states.

But the media have primarily focused attention on the big-time candidates, including Democrats: Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, US Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, former US Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, former Gov. Jerry Brown of California, and US Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa; and Republicans: President George Bush and political commentator Patrick Buchanan.

Thus, Agran and other serious minority candidates here seem to be fighting a losing battle as they struggle for party recognition, debating opportunities, and air time against their better-known Democratic counterparts.

"All I've asked for is the opportunity, on a relatively equal footing, to compete with the others, measure my ideas, my intellect, my approach to government against theirs, and let the people decide," Agran says.

Agran is not alone in his frustration. There are a total of 62 presidential candidates on the Granite State ballot, including 36 Democrats, 25 Republicans, and one Libertarian. Of that lot, there are probably eight to 12 serious Democratic candidates, says Agran.

But the few small-time, albeit serious, candidates here are ignored and lumped in with the so-called publicity-seeking "fringe" candidates.

The high number of candidates may be due to the ease with which one can get on the primary ballot. Basically, all a candidate needs is $1,000.

"The field is wide open," says William Sneider, a visiting professor of American politics at Boston College. "Most of the people who are running are not running seriously and think: 'Gee, for $1,000 I can tell my children I ran for president.' "

But Agran complains that serious minority candidates aren't being treated fairly. At one state's Democratic Party convention in November, Agran was allotted only five minutes to speak instead of the 20 minutes given the major candidates. When his five minutes were over, his microphone was unplugged and music was played to drown out his voice. Last month, he was not invited to speak at a New Hampshire health-care forum with the other major candidates. When Agran stood up and demanded to be heard, he and another minority candidate, Lenore Fulani, were eventually summoned to come forward and participate in the forum.

"If you have something to say and you're running for president, I think you should be heard," says Madelyn Chapman, press secretary for Ms. …