Currently looking at candidates running for office this year and wishing you had another choice? Lucky for you, people all across the country have been providing alternatives for disaffected voters for decades. Some of these would-be politicians, known as perennial candidates for the reliable way they appear in the election cycle every spring, care deeply about issues that don’t concern your average voter. Some campaign to make a point, others to make a joke. A few would desperately like to win, but can’t help saying the first thing they think of at every opportunity — a trait that seemed deadly to any campaign before the 2016 presidential race.
Together, these candidates prove that while it is hard to win an election, anybody in America can run in one. And, oh boy, do they.
It’s unlikely that your support will help them win this year; there’s a reason they’ve never been elected, and have instead become campaign scenery. For the next few months, we’re going to do mini-portraits of many of these candidates to find out why they would run for office dozens of times, and get their … interesting analysis on this year’s strange presidential race, where people who look familiar to many a perennial candidate somehow made it big.
The Idaho Presidential Candidate Who Says Trump Isn’t Quite as Outrageous as Him
Name: Harley Brown
Running for: Was running for president, until he suspended his campaign and endorsed Donald Trump.
Claim to fame: His inability to stop sharing his very politically incorrect sayings, or Harleyisms, even when on live television.
You can recognize him by his: Leather biker gear and big white beard.
How long he’s been running: At least 20 years.
Number of victories: 0
Former Navy Seabee Harley Brown’s political career peaked in 2014, during his campaign against Idaho governor Butch Otter. This wasn’t the race where he polled the highest (that honor belongs to one of his highway commissioner campaigns). The 2014 election, however, did feature a high-profile debate that forced Idaho Public Television to use a 30-second delay, lest Brown — decked out in biker gear; a red, white, and blue tie; and a pocket filled with cigars — say something politically incorrect.
He did. “I’m about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl, and I’m proud of it,” was one of the least offensive things he said during the debate. “I have a god given talent,” he told MTV News regarding his one-liners. “I make sure I didn’t miss out any race, religion, color, or viewpoint. I got them all. Included the Irish like me. Even bikers!”
Shortly after the 2014 debate, TV executives contacted Brown regarding a possible reality TV show about the presidential campaign he launched this year. It didn’t work out. The executives, or, as the 62-year-old calls them, “cowardly poltroons,” didn’t like his “Harleyisms.” They aren’t alone; many people aren’t a fan of Brown’s one-liners, which he has been compiling since his years as a stand-up comedian in the ’70s. He peppered our conversation with a few, including, “Women should come with instructions — no offense.”
You can always tell when a Harleyism is coming. It is usually prefaced by a pregnant pause, as he searches for the most outrageous thing in his oratorical catalogue that is appropriate — or rather, inappropriate — for the moment at hand. If you ask him what he thinks about running for office: “It’s like having a mustard colonoscopy as far as I’m concerned,” or “It makes an IRS audit look like Jell-O pudding.” Harleyisms are reminiscent of comment sections. Brown knows they don’t go over well, which is probably why he is determined to keep saying them.
It was shocking to hear someone claiming to be a politician say such things in 2014, although now, Brown’s cadences feel a little more familiar. As you may have guessed, Brown loves Donald Trump. He suspended his presidential campaign shortly before the Idaho primary and endorsed the billionaire, hoping that he could do what Harley has been unable to do in the 20 years he’s been running for office — win.
Brown first began his eternal quest for elected office back in November 1994, which he calls “the lowest point in his life.” The former engineer was driving a taxi, living in his “biker buddy” Fat Jack’s basement, and his ex-wife had filed a "trumped-up restraining order.” Brown says God then “raised his morale” by telling him that he would one day be commander-in-chief. He got a presidential seal tattoo on his right shoulder, and later changed his name from Robert John to Harley — “for political purposes,” he told Boise Weekly. If you watched the debate, or have ever read a story about Brown, you’ve heard this story before. He’s repeated it so many times, with the exact same words, that it sounds like he’s reciting a poem, or what he considers a creation myth.
After campaigns for Congress, governor, mayor, and president, this origin story has brought him no closer to the presidency. Brown says he has spent nearly $150,000 on his campaigns over the years — selling several motorcycles and his wife’s minivan along the way — and hardly ever gets above 5 percent at the polls. “It was rough,” he says, while sitting in his car with his wife, two sons, and Saint Bernard in a Christian school parking lot. “But you know what they say: Smooth seas never mean a good sailor.”
But Brown is ready to cede his mission to Trump — and thinks maybe he was confused about that message from God all along. “My wife even said, maybe Trump saw my debate with Butch Otter on TV, and maybe there was a spark that led him to say, ‘All right, I’m going to go for it,’” Brown says. “If this crazy biker can do it, I’ll do it and make it work. Maybe that’s what God wanted to happen, to catalyze the Trump campaign, I don’t know. I don’t want to get egotistical about it. But he and I are about 90 percent congruent on our views. Let him take it.”
Turning a Political Campaign Into an Election Season–long Advertisement
Name: Mike the Mover
Running for: U.S. Senate in Washington
Claim to fame: Legally changing his name to Mike the Mover to get attention for his campaigns.
You can recognize him by his: Civil War uniform
How long he’s been running: 28 years
Number of victories: 0
Mike the Mover, né Shanks, is running for U.S. Senate this year — his 19th race in 28 years. “I’m going to keep running until I die,” he says, adding that “it’s good for business.”
If you didn’t guess already, Mover runs a moving business. In fact, moving is why he got into politics in the first place. Back in 1988, Shanks filed paperwork for the lieutenant governor race in Washington in an effort to publicize what he considered unfair regulations for unlicensed movers like himself. His fights with the state Utilities and Transportation Commission landed him in jail a few times, and he was getting fed up. He quickly realized, however, that running for office wasn’t just a convenient way of fighting the system. It also attracted new customers. So he kept running.
In 1990, he officially changed his name to Mike the Mover, effectively turning all future ballots with his name on it into advertisements. Mover ran as a Democrat, and as a Republican. He ran with the Reform Party, and with no party. He has run for sheriff, and for Senate, and nearly every office in between. And in the late ’90s, the state finally deregulated the moving industry, but Mike didn’t give up. There were still possible constituents and customers to woo. “I became a household name,” he says, “and thought ‘Why not keep doing it?’”
His unconventional name isn’t the only publicity trick in Mover’s arsenal. He is also a Civil War reenactor with a cannon in the back of his truck and an old-school beard. When he attends speaking engagements or does “publicity stunts,” he often dresses up like Ulysses S. Grant. “People expect it,” Mover says. Sometimes he does Stonewall Jackson instead, or puts on one of the other 20 uniforms he has. And no, there aren’t many Civil War reenactors in Washington, he says.
This year, Mover is running as a Republican, although longtime voters might assume he’s on sabbatical this year after looking at the ballot. Thinking that his routine needed a refresher, he legally changed his name again. It’s now Uncle Mover.
And as for the people gracing the top of the Republican and Democratic tickets this fall? Mover isn’t a fan, and he has an idea for the perfect ticket, if anyone’s still looking for an alternative to Trump and Clinton. “My preference would be a Mitt Romney and Bernie Sanders ticket,” he says. For those skeptical about the feasibility of such a ticket, the Civil War buff just points to the National Union ticket that won in a landslide in 1864 — although many people would probably not cite that as one of America’s most brilliant ideas.
Trump, on the other hand, is “embarrassing,” Mover says. “Although there are probably a lot of voters who say the same about me.”