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at the water's edge
A perennial candidate is a political figure who repeatedly runs for the same office in successive elections, and consistently fails. The term has the strong implication that the candidate has never or seldom won any election to the posts that they have sought.
Perennial candidates all have different reasons for the campaigns they run, year-after-year:
- Some honestly believe that they will win, and sometimes they can even give good reasons for that belief. William Jennings Bryan, populist and perennial Democratic Party candidate for the United States Presidency, ran for office a third time in a cycle where the voters seemed to be increasingly tired of the Republicans, only to lose when a booming economy lifted the incumbency in the eyes of the electorate.
- Some perennial candidates run for election to raise awareness for their party or their party's cause. Eugene V. Debs was perhaps the most famous such individual in American history, running as the Socialist Party candidate for President in five elections. Each time he ran, the number of votes he gained rose dramatically - even the final time, when he was extremely ill and campaigning from a prison.
- Some such candidates run for office in order to establish themselves as head of their political movement, or to ensure their position as a strong leader. The white nationalist David Duke has run for office dozens of times, for both major parties, over many years and for many positions. While he has succeeded very seldom in winning election (he did spend two years as a representative in Louisiana), arguably Duke's main purpose has been to cement his position as one of the most prominent leaders of America's white nationalist movement.
- And finally, some candidates, such as Vermin Supreme, simply do it for the lulz.
Famous perennial candidates in the USA
- William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925)
- Was the Democratic Party nominee for president three times and unsuccessfully sought the nomination twice.
- Chris Bell
- Served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives (2003–2005). Ran unsuccessfully for Texas State Representative (1984), Mayor of Houston, Texas (2001), reelection to Congress (2004), Governor of Texas (2006), and Texas State Senate (2008).
- Jerry Brown
- After a term as California Secretary of State and two terms as Governor, also went through a period of this and ran, unsuccessfully, for President in 1976, 1980 and 1992, and for U.S. Senate in 1982 and 1992, withdrawing from the latter to run for President again. More recently he has begun winning elections again, as mayor of Oakland, then returning for a third term as Governor in 2011. He's currently serving his record breaking fourth term as governor. California über alles.
- Ted Brown
- A California Libertarian, has run for state and federal office 14 times in the last 30 years never receiving more than 6% of the vote.
- Pat "I'm More Catholic Than the Pope" Buchanan
- A long-standing embarrassment to both the right and left. Author of Suicide of a Superpower, which hilariously had a chapter titled "The End of White America." Similar to Ron Paul, he wants to roll back NATO and focus on domestic problems. Sounds great, says the liberal, what's wrong with that? Well, among other things, Pat is an apologist for Putin and Hitler. His famous "Culture War" speech had the unintended effect of throwing the election to Clinton in '92, so thanks for that. He lost a second nomination to Bob Dole, and ran on the Reform Part ticket in 2000. In the biggest WTF moment of that election (high praise indeed) he secured .08% of the vote in Palm Beach, a Jewish-American stronghold.
- Henry Clay (1777–1852)
- Was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator. He ran for President in 1824, 1832, 1840, 1844 and 1848.
- John H. Cox
- A Republican talk radio host, has run for various positions in his home state of Illinois including U.S. Congress, U.S. Senate, and Cook County Recorder of Deeds, the latter in an attempt to eliminate the position; which he saw as unnecessary. Cox most recently unsuccessfully ran for the 2008 Republican nomination for President of the United States.
- Jacob Coxey (1854–1951)
- Best known for his 1894 March on Washington, DC, ran 3 times for US Senate for Ohio, and twice as the People's Party nominee for Governor of Ohio in 1895 and 1897. Coxey also was the Mayor of Massillon, OH from 1931 to 1933 in addition to losing numerous congressional races.
- Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926)
- Was a presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party in 1900 and thereafter for the Socialist Party in four more elections: 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920. In the 1920 election, while in federal prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 with a speech opposing the draft, he received 913,664 votes, the most ever for a Socialist Party presidential candidate.
- Earl Dodge (1932–2007)
- A long-time activist in the temperance movement, was the Prohibition Party's presidential candidate in six consecutive elections, from 1984 to 2004. He was also that party's vice-presidential candidate in 1976 and 1980. He ran for Governor of Colorado on five occasions (1970, 1974, 1982, 1986, and 1994) as well. He also ran for Senator of Kansas in 1966.
- Charles Doty (1924–2003)
- Ran for the Democratic Party nomination for President in every election from 1984 to 2000.
- David Duke
- Unsuccessfully ran for President as a Democrat in 1988 and then as a Republican in 1992. He also ran for Louisiana's seat in the United States Senate in 1990, 1996, and 2016.
- Jack Fellure
- Fellure is nothing if not persistent. Now in his eighties, he's been chasing the Oval Office for nearly three decades, running in every presidential election since '88, usually as a Republican—the sole exception being his 2012 campaign, when he swerved and sought the Prohibition Party bid. (No shit, we thought they were extinct, too.) On election day, his name appeared on the ballot in only one state: Louisiana, where he received 518 votes. When asked to submit his platform to the FEC, Fellure, a retired engineer, presented them a copy of the 1611 King James Bible. He promises that, if elected President, open copies of that specific version of the Bible will litter the Oval Office, turned to passages he considers of immense importance.
- John W. Griffin (1927–2006)
- Ran unsuccessfully for Ohio's 8th congressional district six times between 1976 to 1998, and losing the 1978 Congressional race in Ohio's 4th congressional district. Griffin did serve two separate terms on Ohio's elected State Board of Education.
- John Hagelin
- A physicist and co-founder of the Natural Law Party, was that party's only presidential candidate in its history. Hagelin ran three times (in 1992, 1996 and 2000) before the party folded in 2004.
- Gus Hall (1910–2000)
- Leader of the Communist Party USA, ran for Governor of Ohio in 1940 and for the presidency four times, from 1972 to 1984 inclusive. 
- Jesse Jackson
- Founder of the Rainbow PUSH coalition sought the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988, and is said to have considered bids in 1996 and 2000.
- Bob Kelleher (1923–2011)
- An attorney from Montana, ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1968 and 1976, ran as a Green candidate for the Montana State Senate in 2000, for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2006, and for Governor of Montana in 2004, and was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2008. 
- Alan Keyes
- Has run for U.S. President in 1996, 2000, and 2008. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988, 1992, and, in 2004, against Barack Obama in Illinois. He never got elected to anything.
- Lyndon LaRouche
- A fringe political figure, ran for president of the United States in eight elections, beginning in 1976. He ran once as a U.S. Labor Party candidate and seven times as a Democrat (only in the primaries, of course, he never won the nomination). In 1992, he campaigned while in federal prison. Many of his followers have also run for office repeatedly, including Sheila Jones and Elliott Greenspan, both of whom ran eight campaigns for a variety of offices.
- Andy Martin (also known as Anthony Martin-Trigona)
- A journalist and self-described consumer advocate, has run for several local, state and federal offices dating back to at least 1977, including two runs for president and six runs for Senate. He has run as a Democrat, a Republican and as an independent.
- Eugene McCarthy (1916–2005)
- Senator from Minnesota, though successful in multiple campaigns for the U.S. Congress, was a perennial presidential candidate. He ran for the Presidency five times, in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 1992. He tried (unsuccessfully) for the Democratic Presidential nomination in three of those years (1968, 1972, and 1992), and ran as an Independent in the other two years.
- Ralph Nader
- A noted consumer rights advocate, has run for the presidency four consecutive times and ran as a write-in candidate in the 1992 New Hampshire primary. Nader ran twice as the nominee of the U.S. Green Party (in 1996 and 2000). In 2004 and 2008, he ran as an independent. Nader's 2.7% in the 2000 election has led to controversy as to whether he spoiled the election for Al Gore.
- Jim Oberweis
- An Illinois dairy magnate, unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004, Illinois Governor in 2006, and U.S. Representative in the Illinois 14th district in 2008 in the special election to replace retiring Dennis Hastert as well as in the November election.
- Ron Paul
- "Help me with my End-of-the-Quarter moneybomb! And don't forget about my Thanksgiving moneybomb, my Christmas moneybomb, my New Year's moneybomb, my Start-of-the-quarter moneybomb, and my leap day moneybomb." It's clear now why Trump took all his followers: he's bootstrapping himself into the presidency while the Pauls are asking for handouts.
- Pat Paulsen (1927–1997)
- A comedian best known for his appearances on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, first ran for President in 1968 as both a joke and a protest. He ran again in 1972 and in succeeding elections until 1996, one year prior to his death.
- Mary Ruwart
- A member of the Libertarian Party, campaigned unsuccessfully for the party's presidential nomination in 1984 and 2008 and for the vice-presidential nomination in 1992. Ruwart was the Libertarian Party of Texas' nominee for U.S. Senate in 2000 losing with only 1.16% of the popular vote.
- Bernie Sanders
- Went through a period of this, before being elected Mayor of Burlington, and eventually winning a seat in the US Senate, representing Vermont as in Independent.
- Charles W. Sanders
- The former Mayor of Waynesville, OH, ran 4 unsuccessful campaigns for Ohio's 2nd Congressional district between 1998 and 2004.
- Al Sharpton
- Ran for the United States Senate from New York in 1988, 1992, and 1994. He also ran for Mayor of New York City in 1997 and for the Democratic nomination for President in 2004.
- Harold Stassen (1907–2001)
- One-time Governor of Minnesota and one of five representatives of the United States who signed the original United Nations Charter. Ran for the Republican nomination for President on nine occasions between 1948 and 1992. While Stassen was considered a serious candidate in 1948 and 1952, his attempts were increasingly met with derision and then amusement as the decades progressed. He also ran in 10 other races for lower offices.
- Joe Sweeney (1944–2011)
- Has run for U.S. Congress in Arizona 13 times and lost 13 times. He has run as a Republican, a Democrat, and once on the New Alliance Party ticket. He is a homophobe who denounces "sodomites" for their "genital drive" and once posted handbills falsely claiming openly gay Republican congressman Jim Kolbe had AIDS. He has won contested Republican primaries over the party-backed candidate probably because of name recognition from running so many times before.
- Vermin Supreme
- Dada-esque performance artist from Massachusetts who has run three times, twice as a Republican and once as a Democrat. Zombie turbines? This guy has my vote. Foresaw the future when he told the Village Voice, "I’m a meme, and only one meme can really be president, I think." Earns "Good Citizen" points for donating a kidney to his mother. As a downside, he wants to make kidney donation compulsory for everyone.
- Jeffrey C. Thomas (1940–2009)
- A physician and former Janesville, WI city council member, lost 4 consecutive race for Wisconsin's 1st Congressional seat between 2000 and 2008.
- Norman Thomas (1884–1968)
- Was the Socialist Party's candidate for President of the United States on six occasions from 1928 to 1948 inclusive. Unlike most other perennial candidates, Thomas influenced American politics to a considerable degree with many of his policies being appropriated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
- Charles Woods (1921–2004)
- An Alabama businessman whose face was badly disfigured from World War II ran for governor of Alabama in 1966, 1970 and 1978, lieutenant governor in 1974, U. S. Senate from Alabama in 1996 and Nevada in 1992 and 1994, U. S. Congress from Alabama in 2000 and 2002, and for President of the United States in the 1992 Democratic primaries. While successful and respected as a businessman his campaigns were not taken seriously due to his appearance, and he was never elected to anything although he came close to winning a couple of primaries.
- Arnold Zandi (1909–1994)
- A hot dog vendor at University of Tennessee sporting events, ran for Knoxville City Council, Mayor of Knoxville, Governor of Tennessee, the United States Senate, and the United States Presidency, all unsuccessfully. He always ran as an independent and always refused to accept campaign contributions. His campaign slogan was "Zandi's a Dandy!"
Famous perennial candidates in the United Kingdom
The British electoral system allows anyone who can get enough votes on the nomination sheet and the entrance fee to register for election, which gives rise to a number of minority interest candidates and joke candidates in most elections (up to twenty or so in a given constituency).
Some of the minor candidates are regulars - notably the late Bill Boaks and the late Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loonies.
- “How His Voice Has Changed!” March 4, 1920.
- Lamb, Brian. Booknotes: Stories from American History. Public Affairs, 2001 ISBN 1586480839, p. 71
- Mary Ruwart - Libertarian, Advocates for Self-Government
- How this happened is anyone's guess since the New Alliance Party was pro-gay rights.
- Kingman Daily Miner, November 3, 1996