Can Stephen Colbert Really Run for President?

Stephen Colbert. Credit: Erin Patrice O'Brien | Comedy Central
Stephen Colbert. (Image credit: Erin Patrice O'Brien | Comedy Central)

Stephen Colbert may make a last-minute attempt to enter the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, his home state.

The political news satirist announced Thursday night (Jan. 12) on his late-night talk show, "The Colbert Report," that he was transferring control of his super PAC, or political action committee, to fellow comedian Jon Stewart. Because campaigning politicians are legally prohibited from overseeing their own fundraising organizations, the transfer paved the way for Colbert to enter the Republican race. 

Colbert announced that he will explore running for "President of the United States of South Carolina." He hosts "The Colbert Report" "in character" as a conservative Republican, and is expected to maintain that persona during his presidential candidacy.

However, as for that candidacy, it can only be symbolic in nature. To officially run for U.S. President in South Carolina, which holds the next presidential primary Jan. 21, Colbert would have had to file his application to appear on the GOP ballot by Nov. 1 and pay the $35,000 late-filing fee (after May 1, the fee increased from $25,000).

Even if he had met those requirements, the South Carolina Republican Party's executive council could have (and probably would have) denied him a place on the ballot. This happened when Colbert attempted to run as a Democrat in the state in 2008, after deciding that the GOP filing fee was too expensive.Democratic Party officials rejected him, saying they didn't consider him to be a "serious" candidate. [Does Weather Affect Elections?]

But can Colbert enter the presidential primary even if his name isn't on the ballot? The comedian is polling relatively well in South Carolina right now. If enough people vote for him as a write-in candidate, could he win the primary?

Rabid Colbert supporters might be disappointed when they get to the polls. In South Carolina, only those listed on the ballot can receive official votes. Write-in votes "are not allowed in political party primaries or for president and vice-president," according to the State Election Commission.

If write-in votes were allowed, Colbert might have gotten quite a few of them. A Public Policy Polling survey released on Tuesday found him polling ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman in South Carolina. According to the survey, Colbert has 5 percent of the vote and Huntsman has 4 percent.

Reading out the results on his show Wednesday night, Colbert said: "This just got real."

Unfortunately for fans, not real enough.

Live Science Staff
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