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Caucus 2020: Who are the 413 Americans running for president?

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Dan Behrman hosts a table at the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention in Cedar Rapids on Saturday March 29, 2019. (Adam Sullivan/The Gazette)
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Dan Behrman hosts a table at the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention in Cedar Rapids on Saturday March 29, 2019. (Adam Sullivan/The Gazette)

In 2016, political newcomer Deez Nuts captured the nation’s attention.

He was a registered presidential candidate with the Federal Election Commission, earning hundreds of media mentions, single-digit support in at least one poll and even ballot access in some states.

Nuts’ campaign was the work of Brady Olson, a politically engaged teenager from Iowa, borrowing the name from rapper Warren G’s lyrics.

To this day, I consider myself a Nuts supporter. He delivered a sharp critique of the two-party system and channeled the country’s frustration at two problematic general election candidates.

As the media’s tally of “real” candidates in the 2020 cycle swells to more than 20, I spent some time checking in on nearly 400 other candidates you’ve probably never heard of, a few of whom may exist only on paper.

More than 400 people have filed papers to run for president in 2020. That includes 161 Democrats and 53 Republicans.

More than 100 listed independent, unaffiliated or something similar as their political party. They are not to be confused with candidates from the Independent Conservative Democratic Party or the Independence Party. And please don’t go mixing up the Independent American Party and the American Independent Party.

There are two Communists, five Greens and 13 Libertarians, along with many candidates who may be the only active members of their declared parties. Ten are listed as “other” and nine as “unknown.”

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Only about 16 percent of the prospects have reported raising any money, ranging from Green Party candidate Alan Augustson’s $19.32, to Trump’s $97.8 million. At least five candidates who I have never seen mentioned in the mainstream media as serious candidates say they have raised more than $100,000.

I found at least two dozen candidates who went through the trouble of filing their candidacy, but apparently haven’t taken any other steps to promote themselves online or through the media.

More than a few of the federal filings appear to be based on internet jokes.

Among the official campaign committee names are Big Chungus, the Meme Committee and the YouTube Committee.

Many of those who do have some sort of active campaign are what you might expect — a little quirky, often with an emphasis on fringe political ideas. As a quirky guy who holds fringe views myself, I mean no disrespect by that characterization.

At least two candidates — Ami Horowitz and Henry Hewes — are running as Democrats on anti-abortion platforms.

A candidate named Roland Jackson designated his campaign committee as “Roland Jackson and Taylor Swift 2020 Funds,” although the pop star Swift is not formally associated as far as I can tell.

Internet Beef is an official candidate, but it appears to be an Oregon-based rock band rather than a real politician. The tagline on the group’s Facebook page is, “Beef, it’s what’s for president.”

Joseph Camp used his FEC filing to promote his business, Jojo’s Event Services and Security LLC. His campaign website notes “This blog’s content is 100,000% Satire … ”

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Jo 753 is the only candidate with numerals in his name. He legally changed it in 2003, according to his campaign website. Aside from the uncommon name, 753 has a pretty standard liberal policy platform — increase business taxes, nationalize health insurance and restrict access to firearms.

I had the opportunity to meet one of the long-shot candidates earlier this year. Libertarian Party candidate Dan Behrman visited Cedar Rapids for the state party’s annual convention in March.

What makes him unique in a field of 413 candidates?

“For one, I’ve got a big yellow hat,” Behrman said.

Indeed, Behrman may be the quintessential alternative candidate. He is known for his stovepipe hat with a “taxation is theft” sticker affixed. It matches his tie and pocket square, all black and yellow, the colors of the anarcho-capitalist movement.

A former candidate for Texas Legislature, Behrman wants to abolish all taxes and “legalize pineapple on pizza,” but he also has some slightly more mainstream positions, like ending the drug war and breaking up pharmaceutical monopolies.

I told Behrman I’m sympathetic to his cause, but I worry gimmicks like the yellow hat and the “taxation is theft” slogan are threatening third-party candidates’ already shaky credibility. He said it’s all part of the strategy to reach more voters.

“We already kind of have that problem, so there’s no point in trying to sweep it under the rug. … I get a lot of pushback from the Libertarian Party itself just for having this hat but realistically, this gets a conversation started,” Behrman said.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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