This Year’s Ballot Joke

Every election cycle, some national political reporters get the easy assignment of writing up some ludicrous candidate for statewide office who got on the general election ballot by a fluke and is embarrassing his or her alleged comrades on a daily basis. WaPo’s David Fahrenthold dutifully wrote about Tennessee’s Mark Clayton, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Bob Corker. Clayton, an antichoice homophobe (among his many attractive qualities), slithered onto the ballot for the usual alphabetical reason by which nobodies often win nothing-burger primaries. I’m really surprised people like him don’t just change their names to Aaron Aardvark and shake down major parties for money to ensure they don’t run.

The only problem with Fahrenthold’s account is that he turns Clayton’s presence on the ballot into a parable of the Decline and Fall of the Tennessee Democratic Party. No, the Donkey Party is not doing well in the Volunteer State these days. But you find accidential nominees like Clayton in all sorts of random places where the party opposing politically unassailable senators chooses not to recruit a serious candidate who might tempt the powerful incumbent to spend money and actually campaign. I was working for Georgia’s Sam Nunn the last time he faced voters in 1990, and some anonymous itinerant (I honestly can’t remember her name) who’d just moved into the state from Nebraska–indeed, she was living in her car–showed up at the Secretary of State’s office the last day of qualifying to become the GOP nominee to run against Nunn. But then her qualifying check bounced, so she never made the ballot and didn’t get the benefit of an article like Fahrenthold’s for her scrapbook.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.