Fringe Candidates Bring Sound, Fury, And Amusement To The 2016 Primaries

The fringe candidates are always with us. In past elections they were easy to pick out. These self-declared nominees were more often present in name only on ballots across the country. Sometimes, they try their luck in states where the registration fees for party primary elections are relatively low, sometimes they pass on the formalities of a party nod and announce their desire for a term at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

CBS News cited figures from the Federal Election Commission showing a sharp rise in the number of people, fringe candidates and all, making that run for the Commander-In-Chief position official. During the 2012 election cycle, the last that required all of the documentation completed in hard copy form, over 400 people applied for the job of Commander-In-Chief. The FEC went electric in 2016, so the level field that is registration to declare intent to run has attracted approximately 800 would-be candidates so far.

Why are so many people vying for second banana billing after the marquee names from the big party candidates are listed? The ease of electronic filing certainly plays a role, especially for those fringe candidates who are willing to rule the country but only if they can do it from the fortresses of solitude some of them seem to leave on rare occasions.

According to Tom Jensen, director of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, dissatisfaction with mainstream party politics is a big motivator. When asked about Deez Nuts, a fifteen-year-old electoral anomaly from Minnesota, Jensen’s response encapsulated the situation of many candidates whose roads to the White House are often convoluted paths that wander elsewhere.

“When you have a situation like that, when voters don’t like either candidate, they are going to be looking for another option, and at least in this poll, into the void steps Deez Nuts.”

Deez Nuts is just one of the many unusual names you might find on your ballot this Fall. Other candidates working the fringes of the presidential election scene include Obi-Wan Kenobi, Captain Crunch Rocky Balboa, Joe Biden (no, not THAT Joe Biden), Mr. Ronald Regan’s Ghost, and a cat named Limberbutt McCubbins.

It would be easy to dismiss most if not all of these already also rans. Deez Nuts is a 15-year-old from Minnesota, and Limberbutt McCubbins is a cat. After all, anyone can register to run, but once it comes down to getting the signatures and the money, a minimum of $5,000, many of these would-be heads of state find better things to do with their time. At first blush, some might argue that this study in open democracy could also be arguably a waste of time and tax-payer money.

Some fringe candidates are upfront about their reasons for running and will admit they don’t expect to be front and center at the next swearing in. ABC News reported that Mark Stewart, who was the first person to register for the New Hampshire primary is one such candidate. That’s right, he got into the office to fill out the paperwork ahead of Bernie and Ted and Donald and Hillary. His sole platform as an “IED” (“Increasingly Embarrassed Democrat”) is his desire to dismantle the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. Running for office is his way to bring attention to what he sees as an important issue.

Aside from the important role the New Hampshire primaries play in the nomination process, there are other reasons it is an attractive state for fringe candidates. The relatively low registration fee, a steal at $1000 dollars, makes it easy on the coffers of smaller campaigns. It is also the only state with a tradition that includes fringe candidates in the conversation.

New Hampshire Secretary of State, Bill Gardner, has to be the most patient public servant in the country. In a report filed on January 25 by David Weigel of The Washington Post, Gardner spent a long evening listening to the folk of the fringe. For the New Hampshire official, it’s just another step in the process, one dating back to 1972, when comedian Pat Paulsen positioned himself as a joke candidate for president that surprised everyone with the amount of earnest support he netted.

“It’s part of our tradition. It’s the only time during the course of the primary and caucus months that something like this takes place.”

It should be noted that the fringe candidates don’t share a stage with the front runners in contention for nomination by the more established political parties. The “Lesser Known Candidates Forum” at The New Hampshire Institute of Politics is the place where the fringe elements debate issues ranging from shorter work weeks to the feasibility of colonizing the moon. They might not set the political scene on fire, but one can’t help but get a burning sensation after reading the transcripts.

Is it all for show, then? Are these runs just stories told by fringe candidates, all sound and fury, signifying little? As entertaining as many of these men and women can be, on election day, they pose little threat to the GOP and the DNC.

[Photo by Jim Cole/AP Images]