Colbert: The new not-Romney?

Micah Osler, staff writer

If Mitt Romney is (as many assume) the near-constant frontrunner of the Republican primary race, he’s had a host of not-Romneys to contend with  – people who briefly steal the spotlight and have one or two burning moments of fame and popularity. Recent not-Romneys include Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum – all briefly major contenders in the race who, some way or another, either got disgraced and dropped out or faded into obscurity. Santorum even managed to win the Iowa Caucus, polling a few dozen votes ahead of Romney.

Some believed that Romney’s recent New Hampshire primary win meant an end to the not-Romneys. However, a surprising new candidate is picking up steam thanks to careful marketing and a definitely-not-coordinating-with-him political organization with apparently unlimited funding: Stephen Colbert.

Mr. Colbert, a comedian and host of Comedy Central’s satirical political talk show The Colbert Report, previously ran for President in 2008 as a Democrat, but his campaign ended abruptly when the registration committee in his home state, South Carolina, vetoed his bid and ended the run before it even really began. However, signs point to a (slightly) more serious attempt this time around.

In 2010, a landmark Supreme Court decision in the Citizen’s United case struck down campaign finance laws and created “Super PACs”, political organizations that can contribute unlimited amounts of money to any campaign. In protest of this, in May 2011, Colbert founded the super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow”, which, he has hinted repeatedly on his show, has received a surprising amount of donations.

On January 12, following reports that he was polling higher than Jon Huntsman in South Carolina (5% versus 4%, respectively), Colbert transferred his Super PAC, which he is not legally allowed to run or coordinate with if campaigning for President, to his Comedy Central colleague, Jon Stewart. Immediately following this, he announced that he was considering running for President in South Carolina as a Republican.

The most recent development of the Colbert saga, though, might be the most interesting. Unfortunately for Colbert, he’s too late to get on the ballot in South Carolina’s Republican primaries, and the state does not allow write-ins. Colbert, therefore, is urging people to vote for Herman Cain, a former not-Romney who is still on the ballot despite dropping out of the race months ago, claiming that he will continue his run if Cain gets a significant percentage of the vote.

As of January 20, Colbert was polling nationally at 36% in the Republican race, and at 13% in a hypothetical race between him, Obama, and Romney, according to the Democratically-affiliated Public Policy Polling firm.