Sen. Ted Cruz isn't the first official presidential candidate of 2016—he's the 195th.
The Texas Republican may be the first high-profile politician to declare he's running for president, but scores of average Americans (with significantly lower name recognition) have already filed paperwork with the Federal Election Committee declaring a 2016 run.
In 2015 alone, 44 people have filed statements of candidacy with the FEC saying they intend to run for president in 2016, and 20 candidates have filed just this month. For the 2016 cycle so far, there are nearly 200 presidential candidates—they just happen to be unknown.
In a purely legal sense, becoming a presidential candidate is incredibly easy. You simply send a form to the FEC office with your name, address, party affiliation, and the office you're seeking. From there, the FEC will assign one of its 38 analysts to your account.
"It's a pretty low bar," Marc Allan Feldman, an anesthesiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a libertarian candidate for president, told National Journal.
The bar was so low, in fact, that Feldman's wife did not know he was running for president until two weeks after he'd announced his candidacy on Facebook. He then received a text from his wife (who is not interested in politics and does not use social media) asking, "Are you running for president?" He responded, "Yes. Am I in trouble?"
"No, my friends are all excited about it. They saw it on Facebook," his wife said, according to Feldman. "They want to know if we're getting a party bus!"
Feldman, who is 55, says he is running to persuade voters to support less moneyed interests in elections, and for that reason he is not accepting donations exceeding $5. However, he says that he does not support the government putting limits on campaign contributions.
"I think that we should get money out of politics the same way we got racism out of politics," Feldman said. "It's not illegal to be a racist and run for office, but you won't get votes. And I think the same thing should be done with the corrupting influence of these large donations."
Feldman says his biggest competition in 2016 will be Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and libertarian candidate who earned 1 percent of the vote—or roughly 1 million votes—in the 2012 presidential election. Johnson was just one of the 417 people who ultimately filed to run for president that year.
"I'm not really trying to sway those 1 million voters to my side," Feldman said. "I'm after the 107 million people who did not vote."
Unsurprisingly, the pool of unknowns who file to run for president trends toward the eccentric and, occasionally, the paranoid. "Santa Claus" filed to run in 2012. "President Emperor Caesar" has filed his candidacy for the past four election cycles. And this year, "Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks" made (his? her? their?) auspicious debut to the political scene.
Other names listed on the FEC website turned out to be falsified or belong to people long deceased. In its filing documents, a George Boria of Buffalo, New York, is listed as treasurer of the Syd Buttocks Committee. But when reached by phone and asked about the committee, Boria had no idea what this reporter was talking about, and must have thought he was on the receiving end of a particularly bizarre prank phone call.
One candidate's application is bordered with clipped-out newspaper headlines about "superstring theory" and includes a collage of photos and headlines worthy of clipping up to a bulletin board on an episode of Homeland.
While it's easy to dismiss these unknowns as people with a surplus of time on their hands, they raise important questions about the role of money in politics, and the struggle of the everyman to feel represented by his government. And for some of these candidates, it's a question worth raising again and again.
"You can have your name as the very first name on the Republican Party primary ballot in the state of New Hampshire and still be denied access to the primary-campaign debate for the Republican Party—instead being dumped into quote-unquote their 'second-tier,' lesser-known candidates' debate," he told National Journal.
This time around, Story—an account manager from Jacksonville, Florida—is running as an independent. He says he's running to show that "the system is dysfunctional" and to advocate for Christianity's role in society.
"The state-sponsored religion is now secular humanism to the point that there is a test to make sure everything is anti-Christian," Story said. "So that's the first objective, is to look at and define the word 'religion.' And the second objective is to take money out of the campaign."
Deonia Neveu, now a stay-at-home mother in Richmond, Virginia, ran as a Democrat in 2012. This time around, like Story, she's running as an independent.
"I feel led to do it," Neveu told National Journal. "I hear a lot of people talking about their discontent, but they don't do anything about it."
While their politics may differ widely, candidates like Story, Neveu, and Feldman have the same refreshing chutzpah.
"I look at my running more as a proposal for improved government rather [than] as a way for Marc Allan Feldman to become president of the United States," Feldman said. "I wanted there to be a candidate who I believed in and who I felt represented me. I don't think we have a right to complain about our choices if we're not willing to throw our hat in the ring and pursue it."
But of all the 2016 presidential candidates so far, Larry D. Scarborough of Bakersfield, California, may be employing the most intriguing media strategy. When he was reached by phone and asked if he was running for president, Scarborough replied, "Ma'am, I don't do phone calls. Goodbye."
Correction: This story originally misspelled Deonia Neveu's last name.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.