With barely six weeks to go, a small but still significant percentage of voters in this year’s polarized election season tell pollsters that they’re not sure whether to vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or a third-party candidate.
They clearly haven’t heard of Limberbutt McCubbins, the “Demo-cat” candidate.
Yes, he really is a feline. And Limberbutt really is running for president of the United States, along with several other four-legged politicians — and at least one crawfish. Their satirical campaigns are at once silly, philanthropic and, it’s not too much of a stretch to say, wry commentaries on the most divisive U.S. election of modern times.
And why not? After all, the U.S. Constitution states that “no person, except a natural born citizen … shall be eligible to the office of President.” Note that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly require said “person” to be human — because the founders surely didn’t think any clarification would be necessary. It’s the loophole for Limberbutt, who is from Louisville (although at 7, he is far short of the minimum human age of 35).
He and his counterparts are hardly the first pet politicians. A pig ran for president in 1968 and a dachshund in 2008. An Alaska town has a feline mayor; a California town once elected a canine one. Limberbutt, a stern-faced tabby, professes belief in a fair tax code, a strong middle class, affordable health care and gay-cat marriage rights. As his slogan puts it: “The time is meow.”
Limberbutt’s campaign started as a joke among high school friends in Louisville, Isaac Weiss and cat owner Emilee McCubbins. Weiss said they were surprised when, after setting up a social-media campaign and website, Limberbutt started getting national and international attention. He now has nearly 12,000 fans on Facebook. And he’s officially registered as a candidate with the Federal Election Commission.
“Emilee and I realized that we could have an impact on this election and that we had an audience to listen to our ideas on our modern democracy,” said Weiss, 18. The friends are now students at The College of Wooster in Ohio, where they each have double majors that include U.S. politics.
Limberbutt’s humans said they aren’t actually suggesting people vote for the cat in November; even they don’t plan to do so. But the kitty campaign seems to have tapped into voter discontent, Weiss said.
“I would argue that people today have become fed up with the two-party system,” said Weiss, who, despite his earnestness, could not help himself from turning to the kind of pun that typifies animal campaigns. “Limberbutt, for them, is an outlet to voice their frustrations and have a political discussion with a true outsider and hopeful Washington fat cat.”
If they held debates, these animal races would truly feature fighting like cats and dogs. That’s right: Limberbutt also has canine competition. There’s Lucy Lou, the current mayor of Rabbit Hash, Ky. There’s also Lord Monticello, a.k.a. “Monti,” a beagle residing just blocks from the White House at The Jefferson hotel.
Hotel officials launched the #Monti4Prez campaign in August on behalf of the “Leash Party.” The campaign has since raised money for two charities, Dog Tag Bakery and Warrior Canine Connection, by selling T-shirts and other products. Monti’s official “Barkform,” optimistically titled “A Sniff in the Right Direction,” includes a pledge to fight for a dog’s right to choose whether to live with a cat.
The campaign was born after Jefferson staff spotted a pattern among guests who came into contact with Monti, according to Philip Wood, the hotel’s managing director. They “didn’t have anything good to say about our current presidential candidates.”
“It is probably safe to say that the interest in [Monti’s] campaign may not have been so well-received in any other election year,” Wood said — before, yep, deploying a pun. “Its success has not gone to his head or tail but may have put a few inches on his waist from people’s handouts in the form of dog treats.”
In all seriousness, Wood’s analysis is likely correct, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn. The unpopularity of the human presidential candidates provides fertile ground for inventing funny alternatives, he said.
“There is an almost surreal aspect to this campaign,” Madonna said via email. “Nothing has been predictable, and many voters are supporting a candidate because they dislike the other candidate more.” The animal candidates adopt characteristics that people want in their human politicians, Madonna said.
And there we have it: The pet politicians promise to be what the chronically corrupt humans often aren’t. You won’t find crooked cat or dog politicians (unless you consider mouse-killing or slipper-chewing moral failings). They are honest and no-nonsense, with witty platforms to match: A feline might pledge to run the rats out of Washington, while a canine can promise to send the current Congress to the dogs.
“Right now, the country may be looking for that comic relief,” said Nancy Mramor, a Pittsburgh-area psychologist who specializes in media and health issues. “When politics and news become too much, you often turn off the TV and go to your social networking. And what do you find? Limberbutt McCubbins. … It’s stress relief from the politicians who you may view as fighting like cats and dogs.”
A few years back, northern Virginia resident Matthew O’Leary and his partner, Anthony Roberts, took a photo of their cat, Hank, and thought it had what O’Leary called a “political look.” They used Photoshop to create a “Hank for Senate” meme. Then they made yard signs to promote Hank as a candidate in the 2011 local and state elections.
The joke caught on, sort of: Hank got nine write-in votes. O’Leary and Roberts decided it was time to pit their kitty against the 2012 U.S. Senate hopefuls, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen. Hank’s campaign exploded on social media and catapulted into news outlets, and it raised more than $16,000 that his owners donated to animal shelters from Northern Virginia to Russia. On Election Day, Hank earned between 2,000 and 7,000 write-in votes — hard numbers weren’t available — and came in third.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to see all of the animal campaigns now, and I feel Hank was definitely a trailblazing pioneer in that category,” said O’Leary, photographer.
Hank passed away from stomach lymphoma in 2014. O’Leary and Roberts maintain a “Hank wall” with memorabilia from his campaign, photos and an urn containing his ashes. A documentary about him was recently released.
“Being able to share your cute little kitty with the rest of the world is such an awesome thing to experience,” O’Leary said recently.
And the guy who beat Hank for Senate? He’s now Clinton’s running mate.