Definition of ‘fringe candidate': A hopeful candidate for which there is little hope

Posted at 10:57 AM, May 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-12 10:57:11-04

Saturday Night Live took the growing field of GOP 2016 candidates to task over the weekend. One by one they were paraded out at “The Southern Republican Leadership Conference.” Mike Huckabee slapped a bass. Carly Fiorina rode in on a Harley. There was an oddly hypnotic dance from Ted Cruz.

It wasn’t SNL’s smartest take on politics, but “event DJ” Cecily Strong did end on a relevant quip:

“Won’t it be fun to watch all of these guys lose to Jeb Bush?”

For the Democratic nomination, it’s safe to apply that same outlook to the only official opposition to Queen Clinton, Bernie Sanders.

So why do the long-shot candidates keep rolling in if the front-runners have already emerged?

Four announcements have been made in the past month – Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders. Political analysts agree that the latest additions have a snow ball’s chance in global warming of clinching their respective party’s nominations.

It’s hard to find an exact definition for “fringe candidate,” but popular consensus indicates that it is a hopeful candidate with little to no chance of securing the nomination. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, whose popular Crystal Ball report tracks presidential candidates, is a little more frank in his analysis. For The GOP, he puts Carson and Huckabee in his fourth tier of candidates, “Evangelical Favorites,” and Fiorina rounds it out at the fifth, “The Gadflies and Golden Oldies.” For the Democrats, Sabato puts Sanders in a third tier called “The Others.”

Real Clear Politics put Carson, Huckabee and Fiorina at the bottom of the barrel by a longshot, with only unannounced maybes (read: probablys) Rick Perry, John Kasich and Rick Santorum trailing them. And the Democrats? Elizabeth Warren, who has vehemently insisted she is not running, has double the support Sanders has according to the RCP average (Warren’s 12.7 to Sanders 5.6).

So why would these fringe candidates enter the race at such a disadvantage? The ballooning GOP field could be the result of a confidence boost from the party’s victories in 2010 and 2014, or the seemingly impossible rise of 2012 candidates such as Rick Santorum. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, similarly, could spark hope that the underdog could come out on top for the Democrats.

But mostly, it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of incentive not to run.

As The New Yorker’s John Wolfson pointed out, the campaign trail has become beneficial for even the fringiest of candidates. Although she wasn’t a fringe candidate, Hillary Clinton was pulling $200,000 per speaking event after her 2008 campaign according to the Huffington Post. And that windfall might be an incentive for candidates such as Fiorina, who release memoirs alongside their campaign, which could return monetary benefits even more immediately.

Plus, it doesn’t take a war chest to capture voters’ attention anymore. Our news cycle is one in which reporters have to individually ask Republican candidates if they would attend a gay wedding. One incendiary comment could keep a candidate in the headlines for weeks (ahem, Ben Carson). Remember pizza guru Herman Cain? His popularity surged each time he opened his mouth (“A manly man don’t want [pizza] piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza”), eventually vaulting him to the top of the polls. That was before someone else opened her mouth – looking at you Michele Bachmann -- and led to him dropping from the race entirely.

Aside from direct personal gain, a candidate can influence their platforms and party just by appearing in the race. A self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, Sanders be the catalyst behind Clinton’s noticeable swing to the left. Even if he has no chance at the nomination, he is forcing Clinton to appeal to the most liberal of her crowd, who could be skeptical of her cozy relationship with Wall Street.

Sure, all of the recent GOP hopefuls might be crushed by the Bush dynasty, just as Sanders might not unseat Clinton from the throne. But for this year’s crop of outsiders, even the view from the cheap seats doesn’t seem so bad.

[Also by Abby Johnston: Mom, you still do more housework than Dad]

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