For all of the furor and sweat over the 2016 presidential field, for all of the candidates sitting back with an eye on 2020 -- or maybe even 2024, in some cases -- there's one candidate who's been willing to play the long game. As of today, we are eight years in to what will almost certainly end up being the longest presidential campaign in history -- a campaign that will be four decades old by the time voters go to the polls.
Meet Andrew Lessig, the first declared candidate for the 2048 election.
Lessig graduated from the University of Alaska at Anchorage last year and now is in law school near Syracuse, N.Y. When we spoke by phone Wednesday, he declared, in the spirit of all great candidacies, that he didn't plan to run. In fact, he said, "I'd totally forgotten that it had even happened until you mentioned it."
How does one inadvertently become a presidential candidate and then forget about it? "I was very interested in politics back when I was in middle school," he told me. His candidacy "grew out of an education program I was doing with the Boy Scouts. I was putting on the meeting program one month and I wanted to do it on civics. I looked into it, and looked into what it actually takes to run for federal office." Lessig discovered that it's as simple as filling out a two-page form.
So he filled it out, listing his home address in California. And then he sent it in. He even set up a domain for his candidacy: freewebs.com/lessig2048. Sadly, that site has been lost to the ages.
(Why 2048? "2048 just sounded like a good year," he said. Plus, he would be in his 50s, not some green 35-year-old who barely meets the age requirement.)
On the second page of the document, candidates can easily set up a candidate committee. So he did that, too.
And that's when things got messy.
"I remember getting a bunch of election law stuff from the FEC after a while and not realizing what I had gotten myself into," he said. The problem with setting up a candidate committee is that you are required to regularly file with the government to detail how much money you raised and spent and so on.
Panicking, he e-mailed his congressman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). "I went straight to contacting my congressman," he said, "because I figured they could help me probably more than my parents and maybe yell at me a little less."
At some point, he e-mailed an FEC commissioner.
"Please Mr. Commisioner," he wrote, "Let me cease Campaigning, and please don't fine me for my bad paperwork."
The FEC obliged, terminating his campaign committee, meaning that he stopped getting notices about having to file. But his candidacy is still active, and since the FEC dutifully publishes every current and eventual presidential candidate every two years, it means that Lessig will be listed as "not yet a statutory candidate" each election cycle until then.
Here's the thing, though: He's been elected president before -- specifically, to the student body presidency in college. But he had to quit that position once he got a full-time job.
Given that record, I asked if he ever planned to run for any political office. He doesn't, in part because he worked on a statewide ballot initiative in Alaska and discovered that electoral politics was "not for me."
I insisted: So he was definitely not going to run in 2048? "No! I'm not going to," he repeated. "I didn't know I was running; I'd totally forgot I was running. That's a relic of when I was a very socially awkward 12- or 13-year old."
Still 32 years to change his mind.