I take politics very seriously because I take policy and its repercussions very seriously. I have to admit components of it can be funny and occasionally the “game” can be fun. Much of the humor comes from weird candidates. Today I’d like to look at the recent past and what may be on our plates for this fall.
I guess my first memory of a “punchline candidate” was Harrold Stassen. He is the very definition of a perennial candidate. Stassen ran for the Republican nomination for President nine times between 1944 and 1992. That isn’t all, he ran for several other high offices in at least two non-adjacent states (Minnesota and Pennsylvania).
Most of the time these fringe or third party candidates are superfluous; occasionally they (at least arguably) affect the outcome. American politicians and political operatives are very good at two candidate contests; throw in another candidate(s) and they are out of their element. The loser of both the 2000 and 2016 popular vote won the Electoral College and therefore became president. Many Democrats contend that third party Candidate Ralph Nader took just enough votes away from Al Gore to throw Florida to George W. Bush. In 2016 third party candidate Jill Stein’s vote total was higher than Donald Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan and Wisconsin. To contend that all the Nader or Stein votes would have gone to Gore or Hillary Clinton is a conclusion open to debate; but it does present an interesting subtext to those elections. (Stein’s Moscow dinner with Vladimir Putin and Michael Flynn is certainly fodder for conspiracy theorists.)
Most often the weird candidate costs their party a winnable race. Riding the 2010 Tea Party wave Christine O’Donnell won the Republican primary for the Senate in Delaware. The relatively young O’Donnell was already somewhat of a perennial candidate herself. She is to this day infamous for perhaps the worst political television commercial of all time which opened with her facing the camera and saying, “I am not a witch.” Post 2010 political axiom: If you have to declare that you are not a witch your campaign is in huge trouble.
There is an impactful backstory to that election which is largely unknown. The seat in question had been held by Joe Biden for over 30 years. O’Donnell defeated Mike Castle in the GOP primary. Castle was such a strong candidate that then sitting Vice President Joe Biden’s son, the now late Beau Biden, decided not to run. Today Democrat Chris Coons still sits in the Senate. Delaware is a reliably blue state and Castle was one of the few Republicans capable of winning statewide.
In 2012 Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin made his famous, “Legitimate rape” comment. This November Democrat Claire McCaskill is defending that seat.
In 2017 deep red Alabama provided people like me a lot to write about and the most unanticipated outcome of this decade. The Republican candidate in the special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat lost because he was so deeply flawed. Roy Moore is a right wing extremist, which is actually a positive in Alabama. The problem is the chickens of decades of sins came home to roost. Multiple credible accusations from now grown women that Moore had molested them when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties came to light. That made some of his antics like flashing a gun at a campaign rally and riding a horse so poorly that even a big city boy like me knew something was amiss look ridiculous. In the end Moore narrowly lost to now Democratic Senator Doug Jones. Unless lightning strikes twice I doubt that Jones will be able to defend his seat but he is there for now and through 2020.
Now we come to what could be the 2018 edition of a colorful third party candidate that could mess up a race for the Republicans. Don Blankenship finished third in the recent GOP Senatorial primary in West Virginia. Blankenship is a convicted felon for his involvement in a mining disaster that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners. Nonetheless Blankenship is threatening to run as a third party candidate in November. West Virginia is Trump country and has been a reliable red state in recent years. Democrat Joe Manchin is the incumbent Senator running for reelection and one of the few Democrats currently capable of winning statewide in West Virginia. The Republican primary winner was State Attorney General (and therefore obviously capable of winning statewide) Patrick Morrisey. If Blankenship runs he cannot win however he will take votes away from Morrisey in what should be one of the closest Senate races in 2018 and one of the Republican best pickup opportunities.
The 2018 races are already colorful and we haven’t even gotten through the primaries yet. One thing I don’t have to worry about is a supply of material to write about!
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