While voters have long written in “protest” names like Mickey Mouse, there have been a handful of times where imaginary candidates managed to run a real campaign. Check out seven instances where exasperated voters could find comfort in a fictional alternative.
1. MR. PEANUT
William S. Burroughs endorsing Mr. Peanut. Courtesy of Vincent Trasov
The salty, dapper legume of Planters Peanuts fame threw his top hat into the Vancouver mayoral race in 1974, advocating sensible measures like hiring freezes for government jobs until the city’s population grew while simultaneously championing fluff like a lending library for umbrellas and rain boots. The man inside the makeshift peanut costume was Vincent Trasov, a performance artist who decided to use the character to explore his interests in anthropomorphism and “contemporary mythology.”
For 20 days, Trasov roamed the city, attracting news cameras and performing impromptu tap dance routines while a campaign manager detailed his peanut platform. When author William S. Burroughs visited, he became captivated by the Peanut party and threw his support behind the candidate. After the ballots were tallied, Trasov had grabbed 2685 votes, a 3.4 percent share. Though Planters probably appreciated all the free publicity, they had nothing to do with the campaign.
2. SANTA CLAUS
If children had been allowed to vote, the 2012 election could have turned out very differently. Nevada resident Thomas O’Connor, a bishop who legally changed his name to Santa Claus and who has an uncanny likeness to that red-suited avatar for holiday cheer, ran for presidential office that year as well as 2008. Claus used his pulpit to advocate streamlining the adoption system and even met with governors across the country from 2005 to 2007 to raise awareness about how their political influence could improve the lives of kids. As a write-in candidate, Claus has no idea how many votes he received that year—the election commissions typically won’t count names that are uncertified.
3. EMPEROR PALPATINE
The 2015 city council elections in Ukraine didn’t appear to have any restrictions when it came to galaxy of origin. A 25-year-old man won an Odessa city seat despite dressing in the flowing robes of Sith lord Emperor Palpatine and listing his job occupation as “emperor” of the “Palpatine Finance Group.” The coup is believed to be the result of an upstart “Internet Party” winning over voters with their absurdist commentary on the local political scene; a man dressed as Chewbacca was also arrested for causing a disruption at a polling station.
4. SUPER BARRIO
An amalgamation of super hero and professional luchador, or Mexican wrestler, Super Barrio was a constant presence in Mexico’s low-income areas in the late 1980s, acting as an arbitrator for tenants who faced eviction or substandard housing conditions. The masked man decided to run for president in 1988 before withdrawing and supporting the National Democratic Front. He is potentially the only masked candidate to ever be allowed to testify in front of Mexico's Congress of the Union.
In male-dominated Iran, a graphic novel character named Zahra attempted to shake up the status quo by running for president in 2013. Backed by her creators, artists Khalil and Amir, Zahra became the first woman, real or fictional, to run for office in the country. The two said they intended to use Zahra as a way to raise awareness about human rights and to rally against restrictions on free speech. She received over 2000 virtual votes.
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The possum hero of Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip became a representative for a generation of young voters dissatisfied with Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Rebellious Harvard students incited by the Harvard Crimson pinned “I Go Pogo” buttons to their shirts and lobbied for Pogo’s legitimacy as a third-party candidate. The joke became slightly less amusing when a rally at the school turned violent: As 1600 restless spectators waited for Kelly to make an appearance endorsing his character's candidacy, they began to disconnect trolley lines, prompting police to wade in and begin swinging nightsticks. Twenty-eight pro-Pogo students were arrested.
For voters unhappy with both major candidates in 2016, a tentacle-faced demagogue may have seemed like a reasonable alternative. Introduced in a 1928 H.P. Lovecraft story as a power-hungry beast lurking in the sunken city of R’lyeh, Cthulhu has allegedly been waiting for his opportunity to rule civilization by electoral vote. While he promises “unmentionable horror” will rain down upon his subjects, he’s also very anti-corporation and vows to promote free education in the dark arts for all. His campaign advisors, who maintain a meticulously-detailed website promoting his effort, prefer to remain semi-anonymous.