Is Kanye West Serious About Running for President?

Dave McNary
·5-min read

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Kanye West has scheduled his first campaign event since announcing he was running for President two weeks ago. And despite the fact that there were reports last week that West was ending his White House bid before it ever started in earnest, the kickoff event in South Carolina (for registered guests only) is the clearest indication yet that musician is serious about his Oval Office ambitions.

Indeed, even as some critics dismissing West’s campaign as a sad publicity stunt, political experts say that the musician’s fervent following and wealth could make him a formidable protest candidate.

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West has already missed the deadline for being listed on the ballot in several states, noted Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a campaign watchdog group. Each state sets its own rules for candidates, he added.

“Anyone who runs as an independent for president is going to have an uphill battle,” Beckel told Variety. “The long and short of it is that the system does not make it easy. There’s no way he’ll be on the ballots in all 50 states.”

He’s certainly launching his campaign in an unconventional manner. In a lengthy interview on July 8 with Forbes magazine, West revealed that he was running under the Birthday Party banner. He also said that he no longer supports President Trump; that Trump and the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden should bow out of the race; that he’s never voted in his life; that he was sick with COVID-19 in February; and that his White House organization would be based on the fictional country of Wakanda, the setting of the movie “Black Panther.” He’s also begun seeking 10,000 signatures by a deadline of noon Monday to get him on South Carolina’s ballot.

On July 15, West filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission so he’s listed as official presidential candidate with hundreds of others, including Green Party candidate Kanye Deez Nuts West. On the same day, Kanye West also paid a $35,000 fee to be listed on the ballot in Oklahoma.

Richard Winger, publisher of the monthly newsletter Ballot Access News, said West has missed filing deadlines in Indiana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas. But there’s still time for West to get on the ballot in many states.”August is the big month for deadlines,” Winger said. “It’s a hodgepodge of rules. There’s no uniformity.”

Winger admits that he was initially taken aback by West’s announcement but has shifted his thinking since then.

“At first I was horrified,” he said. “We’ve already learned what a disaster it is for a non-politician to be president. But if he can get young people who don’t usually participate to vote, that’s a positive.”

Robert Y. Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University, noted the filing requirements are relatively simple in a few states such as payment of $500 in Louisiana and $1,000 in Colorado.

“He has a huge advantage in name recognition and money,” Shapiro said. “Right now, there really isn’t a visible third party candidate.”

The most successful recent third-party candidate for president was Ross Perot, who received nearly 19% of the popular vote in 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H.W. Bush. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received nearly 3 million votes in 2000, prompting allegations that his campaign helped George W. Bush win over Democratic candidate Al Gore.

Shapiro noted that West could have a potential impact in five states that were closely contested in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which were won by Trump by slim margins, and Minnesota and New Hampshire, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won.

Shapiro said it’s still unclear what campaign issues West will promote. He said it’s most likely that West could tap into younger voters, particularly those who have not participated in past elections.

“Everyone is focussed on the pandemic and the economy,” he added. “Trump has a strong base and Biden’s base is anti-Trump. But at least 10% of the possible votes are up for grabs.”

Justin Levitt, an American constitutional law scholar and professor at Loyola Law School, agreed that West should not be ignored.

“He absolutely could make a difference,” Levitt said. “In elections, there are a lot of factors — the weather and how the local sports team performed. If there were less at stake or the result seemed inevitable, then you might see people support Kanye as a protest vote.”

David J. Jackson, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University who specializes in the relationships between entertainment and politics, said that West’s media presence could play a decisive role in the outcome of the race.

“He’s got the money and name recognition,” said Jackson. “Four years ago, Trump was just a celebrity. The question now is if Kanye would have an impact on a close race. The write-in votes in Wisconsin may have been enough to swing that state in 2016.”

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