Friday, October 26, 2007

Colbert for President

In case you've been hiding under a rock or something for the past couple of weeks, Stephen Colbert is running for president. Or is he? How are we supposed to take all this?

In support of his new book, I Am America (and so Can You), Stephen Colbert made the talk show rounds and wonderfully played the part of the politician who can't decide if he's running for president or not. In almost all cases, he gave his "I haven't decided yet" answer unprompted or after almost begging the host to ask him the question. It all came to a head in an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Colbert finally admitted that he hoped to declare his presidency (if he did decide to run) on "a more prestigious show." He announced "I am doing it!" just minutes later on his own Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report.

Since then, after a look at his campaign finances and finding that he had "zero-point-zero million dollars," he took on a corporate sponsor, Nacho Cheese Doritos. And has launched a campaign website ( - not to be confused with, which is...uh, something else Colbert related) where he is offering .pdf downloads of the 2008 South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary petition. He has refined his "I am doing it" statement to declare that he is only running in his native South Carolina (as a "favorite son") and is running in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.

So we have a liberal comedian who plays a thick-headed conservative commentator on his Comedy Central show. Is this like the old Pat Paulson for President campaign (or going further back, Gracie Allen running as the Surprise Party candidate or Will Rogers running as the Anti-Bunk Party candidate) or is this getting serious? Will he milk it for all the laughs he can, then drop out? Or will he go all the way?

Consider this: A Public Opinion Strategies poll places Stephen Colbert ahead of three bona fide Dem presidential candidates. He doesn't fair as well among Repubs. From Truthdig...
In the Democratic primary, Colbert takes 2.3 percent of the vote—good for fifth place behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (40 percent), Sen. Barack Obama (19 percent), former Sen. John Edwards (12 percent) and Sen. Joe Biden (2.7 percent). Colbert finished ahead of Gov. Bill Richardson (2.1 percent), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (2.1 percent) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (less than 1 percent).

He was less lucky in the Republican field, where he took less than 1 percent of the vote behind even longshot candidates like Reps. Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani led the Republican field with 29 percent, followed by former Gov. Mitt Romney at 12 percent, former Sen. Fred Thompson (11 percent) and Sen. John McCain (10 percent).

“It’s clear that Colbert’s truthiness image and ‘I am America’ message has serious resonance among Democrats,” said Neil Newhouse, a POS partner.
And, according to Rasmussen Reports, Colbert reaches double digits as a third-party candidate...
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that Colbert is preferred by 13% of voters as an independent candidate challenging Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani. The survey was conducted shortly after Colbert’s surprise announcement that he is lusting for the Oval Office.

The result is similar when Fred Thompson is the Republican in the three-way race. With Thompson as the GOP candidate, Colbert earns 12% of the vote...
Colbert does particularly well with the younger voters most likely to be watching his show and therefore most aware of his myriad presidential-like qualities. In the match-up with Giuliani and Clinton, Colbert draws 28% of likely voters aged 18-29. He draws 31% of that cohort when his foes are Thompson and Clinton. In both match-ups, Colbert has more support with young voters than the GOP candidate.
(emphasis theirs)

"These are my people," Colbert didn't say when he wasn't asked about the high support from young voters discovered by Rasmussen Reports. "They know who I am and what I'm about, and so forth. Is this thing working, are we on the air? Oh, it's the Internet? Well why didn't you say the Internet?"
Joshua Green analyzes the race with Colbert in it for The Atlantic and even offers his services as campaign strategist.

One downside to all this: It's against federal election laws to have corporate sponsors and for media organizations (like Comedy Central and Viacom) to give candidates their own television shows and the Federal Election Commission is not known for having a sense of humor (as noted by ABC and Slate among others.)

If you're into this, some YouTube links:

Colbert on Larry King Live
George Carlin discusses Colbert and other topics on Countdown with Keith Olbermann
Colbert on Meet the Press (Part 1 and Part 2)

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