Fringe Candidates

Political Insider‘s Cicero, noting that Illinois businessman John Cox has spent a million dollars and is campaigning tirelessly but is being ignored while people like Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich are being invited to debates, wonders where the line is drawn between a “viable” and a “fringe” candidate for president.

It’s a fair question, really. Certainly, I’d consider any of the candidates in the low single digits to be marginal. My January list of People Who Won’t Get Elected President consists entirely of people who have been elected to significant office — Congress or a governorship — and yet have next to no national name recognition or any obvious way to break to the top of the pack.

Gravel and Ron Paul, both of whom got some netroots love after noteworthy debate performances, were on the list; were I crafting it now, they’d still make it. John Cox and Susan Ducey, neither of whom I’d heard of at the time, didn’t make the list but they fit the description.

It’s early enough in the process, I suppose, to pretend that Gravel, Paul, Brownback, and others who have held major elected offices or otherwise have some national prominence are legitimate candidates and include them in the debates. As we get further into the process, though, the parties owe it to their nominating electorates to winnow the field to those who have a chance to win, so that precious television time isn’t wasted on vanity candidates.

Cox might well be a very capable guy. He is, however, a fringe candidate for the White House. The fact that he’s got a million dollars and lots of time to waste in Iowa doesn’t change the fact that nobody has ever heard of him and that he’s never gotten elected to anything. There are likely going to be dozens, if not hundreds, of people running. We simply can’t include all of them in the debates or even the press coverage.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think that is one of the unsung potentials for Iowa and New Hampshire. The joke goes that no one in New Hampshire decides who to vote for until they have had the candidates to their house at least four times. If a ‘fringe candidate’ can do the retail politics in a relatively small area that gets a message across that isn’t being articulated by a ‘major candidate’ and resonates with the voters, then they have a chance. They will start to garner the increased attention as they rise in the polls in these early states.

    But if they can’t convince enough voters that they have something worthwhile and unique, they won’t make a blip.

  2. aquaculture says:

    It’s early enough in the process, I suppose, to pretend that Gravel, Paul, Brownback, and others who have held major elected offices or otherwise have some national prominence are legitimate candidates and include them in the debates.

    I don’t think pretending is required in the case of Paul, they couldn’t exclude him from debates now even if they tried. He’s at $3 on intrade now, just $2 down from McCain.

    Paul is the real story of this campaign so far. I’m very curious to see his Q2 fundraising numbers on the 15th. I suspect all talk of him being a “fringe” candidate with “no chance” will end abruptly on that day.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Paul is the real story of this campaign so far.

    Well, no. He’s probably the most interesting of the candidates because he’s so different from the rest of the field. He’s got the energetic support of some well-organized libertarians. He’s got no shot, however, at winning the nomination. He just doesn’t appeal to more than a tiny faction of the nominating electorate.

  4. Bithead says:

    I don’t know, but it seems to me that Paul and Kucinich both live in the opposite ends of the same hall.

  5. Michael says:

    Cox is the ultimate fringe candidate: a bored millionaire with a huge ego and no elective experience – not even a measly local office.

    He has spent a lot of money, but everyone he meets instantly knows he’s small potatoes. His fundraising in pathetic. He’s raised a grand total of $13,000 as of the April filing deadline, and he began running before everyone else – back in Feb., 2006.

    He was shut out of the debates because, for all the money he’s spent, he’s not convinced ANYONE of his viability. If he starts catching fire with the grassroots (like even Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are doing) he will then break out of the Less-than-one-percent bracket in polls and may even be included in some debates.

    But don’t hold your breath.