What makes a non-starter candidate run for office?

They have almost no path to victory, so why are so many darker-than-dark-horse candidates jumping into the 2024 presidential race?

Chris Christie
(Image credit: Photo by Carlin Stiehl for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

There are few things Americans like more than underdogs; in sports, entertainment, and yes, even politics (which increasingly has come to resemble the above) there is a particular hunger for watching people struggle against — and occasionally surmount — the odds so perniciously stacked against them. Sometimes, however, an underdog is simply too far under to publicly register as a viable contender. In politics, particularly during presidential elections, these darker-than-dark horse candidates often earn outsized media attention at the onset, far beyond their presumptive limited-to-the-point-of-virtual-impossibility chances of actually being voted into office.

This year, as in years past, the roster of declared presidential candidates ranges from dominating front-runners to insurgent hopefuls to gadfly outsiders jostling to find a lane that leads them to, and through, the nominating convention. While there are certainly candidates who face an uphill battle to secure their party's support ahead of the general election, a number of declared presidential aspirants have done so in defiance of essentially all quantifiable indicators of success; professor and public intellectual Cornel West recently announced his candidacy on the progressive People's Party ticket, despite the group having no ballot access nationwide; right-wing commentator Larry Elder promised "a new American Golden Age" when he declared in late April, but has entered the race with negligible cash on hand leftover from his "Elder for America" PAC and virtually no significant campaign events to date; new age author and 2020 democratic candidate Marianne Williamson's 2024 bid has been criticized as a "vanity campaign" and "something that's not real" by former staffers, after multiple top advisors left in recent months; businessman Perry Johnson, former Cranston, Rhode Island, mayor Steve Laffey, and onetime Montana Secretary of State (and part-time country music singer) Corey Stapleton are all running for the 2024 GOP nomination as well, although the average voter would be easily forgiven for not knowing they exist at all.

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Rafi Schwartz, The Week US

Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion's news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.