What do John F. Kennedy, Strom Thurmond and an Alaskan cat named Stubbs all have in common?
They are all politicians who ran as write-in candidates ... and won.
Write-in campaigns are the stuff of political legend -- probably because they're so hard to pull off. Sure, fictional characters are somtimes nominated in protest or jest to political office. But for a serious politician who can't appear on the ballot for any number of reasons, the write-in option is the last resort.
In Detroit, where financial decisions are being made by an emergency manager, Mike Duggan says he has a plan to eventually transition control of the city back to the mayor's office.
Though he was an early front-runner in the race, the former prosecutor and head of Detroit's largest hospital system will take on the primary via write-in campaign. Two court challenges from opponent Tom Barrow ultimately found him ineligible for the ballot due to a technicality with his residency status. If he wins, Duggan would also be the city's first white mayor elected since Roman Gribbs in 1970.
But write-in candidates have a hard go for a number of reasons -- and Duggan won't be immune to those challenges before the August 6 primary, only five weeks away.
Ballots don't come with instructions for nominating a write-in candidate. That means more money will have to go into voter education and staffing poll locations on the day of the primaries. "We need to educate the voters before they walk into the polls, and that's very difficult," said Duggan. Explaining the write-in process will also take precious seconds away from his overall message during political ads. Not underestimating how much voter education lies ahead, Duggan and members of his campaign actually filled out a giant mock ballot during the press conference.
Poll numbers can also be deceiving, says Zachary Gorchow of the Gongwer News Service, citing the election for Rep. Thaddeus McCotter's vacated seat in 2012. According to polling data, former Sen. Nancy Cassiss (write-in) had pulled ahead of reindeer farmer Kerry Bentivolio (on the ballot) ... until Election Day, when she lost by almost 20 percent. "The thinking is Mr. Duggan will need 20 to 25 percent to finish in the top two," wrote Gorchow, "so if he is polling at less than 45 percent, it suggests his difficult path to make the general election is nearly closed."
But it's not impossible.
In 1954, Strom Thurmond was elected to the Senate after running as a write-in candidate in South Carolina. In 1960, John F. Kennedy won the Democratic presidential primaries in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as a write-in choice. Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Wiliams won his re-election as a write-in candidate after having too many invalid signatures on his petition.
Most importantly, Stubbs the Cat, a poli-kitten from the historical district of Talkeetna, Alaska will soon be celebrating 16 successful years in office. With two other candidates in the race, Mayor Stubbs was overwhelmingly elected as write-in kitteh in 1998.
Mayor Stubbs, a 15-year-old yellow cat who has been overseeing the town of Talkeetna, Alaska since shortly after he was born. (AP Photo/Sandy Bubar)
At his press conference, Duggan said members of his campaign were looking to the successful effort mounted by Lisa Murkowski, who won an Alaskan Senate race in 2010 as a write-in candidate.
He also tied his comeback, and the momentum surrounding it, to the loss of local control and electoral process in Detroit with the appointment of the emergency manager.
"There was a sense across this community that the right of people to decide for themselves wasn't being respected," he said.
"Based on what I'm seeing, I think there are going to be a lot of people energized, that maybe weren't. There appears to be much more energy today than there was a week ago."
Below, see 27 cats who appear be shocked by Mike Duggan's decision to run a write-in campaign. Because why not?
"So apparently," he added, "Tom Barrow did me a favor."