A Brief History of Weird Campaign Promises

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"If Elected, I Promise..."

Politician giving speech
Tetra Images / Getty Images

As long as there have been political campaigns, there have been campaign promises. They're like the cloying perfume that politicians use to make themselves smell sweeter to voters.

Most candidates stick with straightforward, tried-and-true promises. They'll lower taxes, get tough on crime, shrink the size of government, create jobs, reduce the national debt, etc. It doesn't matter if the promises are contradictory since they're seldom delivered anyway. Once elected, a politician can always come up with an excuse to explain why a promise couldn't be fulfilled.

However, sometimes a candidate will defy the conventions of the genre and come up with a truly original, weird promise. For instance, in the US presidential campaign of 2016, Donald Trump has famously promised to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Whatever one may think of the idea, it deserves credit for being... different.

And in the hands of some candidates, the weird promise is elevated to a kind of art form. 

The campaign season provides the setting in which the oddball views of these political outsiders can, for a brief while, gain a wider audience. So like artists they use politics as a canvas, painting a vision with their promises of an alternative, stranger world. 

Click through for some of the most memorable and weird campaign promises of the past 100 years.

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The Lopular Front

Ferdinand Lop
Ferdinand Lop (wearing hat). via Paris Unplugged

Ferdinand Lop was an early master of weird campaign promises. Any history of the subject would be incomplete without him.

Lop began his career as the Parisian correspondent for a number of provincial, French newspapers. Then, in the mid-1930s, he started campaigning for political office. He first put himself forward as a candidate for the French presidency in 1938, and he continued to run in each election until the late 1940s. He never won, but that didn't deter him from continuing to run, and he enjoyed the fervent support of Parisian students who called themselves the "Lopular Front." 

The centerpiece of his perennial campaign was a program of reform which he called "Lopeotherapy." This consisted of a variety of promises, including the following:

  • The elimination of poverty, after 10 pm.
  • The relocation of Paris to the countryside, so that its residents could enjoy fresher air.
  • The nationalization of brothels, so that with the revenue the government could lower taxes.
  • The payment of an annual allowance to the widow of the unknown soldier.
  • The creation of a Ministry of Health and Tobacco and a Ministry of Sex and Folklore.

In 1959, newspapers reported that British police had arrested Lop after he claimed that he was going to marry Princess Margaret. Lop died in 1974 at the age of 83.

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Rocking-Chair Candidate

rocking chair
vicm/E+/Getty Images

Retired farmer Connie Watts of Georgia campaigned for the US presidency in 1960 as the write-in "rocking-chair candidate" of the Front Porch Party (so-called because his campaign headquarters was his front porch, which he never left).

He promised a law to "keep them 'vine-ripened' stickers off of them mushy green tomatoes." He also promised that he would move the nation's capital to "right out there on that knoll" 200 yards away from his chair.

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The Space-Age Candidate

space-age president campaign poster
via Gabriel Green For President

Also in 1960, Gabriel Green, founder of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America, announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, promoting himself as "your write-in space-age candidate."

Thanks to his contact with the "space people," Green promised that his presidency would usher in "The World of Tomorrow, and UTOPIA now." Using his system of "prior choice economics," he would eliminate money by giving everyone a credit card. He also promised, "free permanent insurance on everything, no more taxes, free medical and dental care for everyone without the disadvantage of socialized medicine and cradle to grave economic security."

However, Green withdrew his candidacy several months before the election, conceding that "not enough Americans have yet seen flying saucers or talked to outer space people to vote" for him. He endorsed John F Kennedy.

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Raving Loony

Lord Sutch
Screaming Lord Sutch on the campaign trail. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

'Screaming' Lord Sutch (yes, his legal name) first ran for political office in 1963, at the age of 22, but didn't win. Throughout the rest of his life he kept running for various political offices and kept losing, but this eventually did win him recognition from the Guinness Book of Records for having run for a seat in the UK Parliament more times than anyone else.

Over the course of his career, he ran as the candidate for (in order) the 'Sod em All Party,' the National Teenage Party, the 'Go To Blazes Party,' and finally, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.​

He made many promises to voters, perhaps his most famous one being to bring back the village idiot, but he also proposed no closing hours for pubs, using the European Union's over-production of butter to create a giant ski slope, heated toilets for pensioners, and putting joggers to good social use by forcing them to power treadmills to generate electricity.

Sutch died in 1999, at the age of 58.

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Primate Platform

Rodney Fertel
Rodney Fertel with baby gorilla. via Octavia Books

In 1969, Rodney Fertel (former husband of Ruth Fertel, founder of Ruth's Chris Steak House) ran for mayor of New Orleans as a single-issue candidate. He promised that, if elected, he would "get a gorilla for the zoo." That was his one and only goal. He called this the "primate platform."

Fertel campaigned by standing on street corners, sometimes dressed in a safari outfit, sometimes in a gorilla suit, handing out miniature plastic gorillas to passersby. He gave black gorillas to Black voters and white gorillas to White voters.

Fertel lost the election. He only got 308 votes. But he kept his promise by donating a pair of West African gorillas the following year to New Orleans' Audubon Zoo, at his own expense.

Fertel's son has written a book about his parents. It's titled The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir

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Freak Power

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson, 1970. Screenshot from "High Noon in Aspen"

In 1970, journalist Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, on the "Freak Power" ticket, which claimed to represent all "freaks, heads, criminals, anarchists, beatniks, poachers, wobblies, bikers, and persons of weird persuasion."

He promised a number of reforms if elected, including:

  • Changing the name of Aspen to "Fat City."
  • Ripping up the city streets with jackhammers to force all transportation to be by foot or bicycle. 
  • Putting dope pushers who sold at a profit in stocks.
  • Disarming the sheriff and his deputies.
  • Stopping exploitation of Aspen's image by "greenheads, land-rapers, and other human jackals." 

Thompson narrowly lost the election, but he later noted that the narrowness of his defeat was, in itself, quite an achievement given his campaign's "out-front Mescaline platform."

On YouTube you can view a brief documentary ("High Noon in Aspen") about his 1970 campaign.

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A Slimmer Candidate

newspaper clipping
via The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) - May 23, 1986

Adeline J. Geo-Karis, campaigning in 1986 as the Republican candidate for Comptroller of Illinois, promised that if elected she would lose 50 pounds.  This, she said, would put her in a better position to "go to different states and charm business and industry to come to Illinois." She didn't win.

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Most Boring Candidate

Alan Caruba
Alan Caruba. Flag background: Burazin/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

In 1988, Alan Caruba insisted that he wasn't running for president of the US as the candidate of the Boring Party. Instead, he was strolling for president, having been nominated by a "political inaction committee."

If elected, he promised to appoint Vanna White of "Wheel of Fortune" as labor secretary because "she's the only person I know who negotiated a million-dollar contract just for turning letters."

But other than that, he pledged to do "as little as possible."

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Most Qualified Candidate

Vermin Supreme
Vermin Supreme. via Evil Twin Booking Agency

The man who calls himself Vermin Supreme (it's his legal name) has campaigned in numerous state and national US elections since the late 1980s. Throughout that time, his central argument has always remained the same. It is that all politicians are vermin, and therefore as the Vermin Supreme he is, without question, the most qualified candidate.

He can be recognized by the large black boot that he wears on his head.

Over the years Vermin Supreme has made many promises. If elected, he will:

  • Give all seriously ill people a bus ticket to Canada.
  • Provide government-issued toothpaste "containing addictive yet harmless substances."
  • Make crime against the law.
  • Give every American a free pony.
  • Fully fund time travel research.
  • Legalize human meat.

Vermin Supreme was the subject of a 2014 kickstarter-funded documentary, Who Is Vermin Supreme? An Outsider Odyssey.