Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for president, filed a petition with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday to change his name to "None of the Above" in hopes of becoming eligible for future presidential debates and to improve his chances of winning the presidency on November 8.
Johnson said he made the decision after learning that he would not be allowed to participate in the first presidential debate with Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Party candidate Donald Trump on September 26.
The Commission on Presidential Debates said candidates had to be polling at least 15 percent in national polls. The commission said that Johnson was at 8 percent.
"It's a rigged game," Johnson said in response to the commission's decision.
Johnson told reporters he had considered changing his name for several weeks but waited to see if he was going to be eligible for the first debate. After learning he was not, Johnson decided he would join the "rigged game," as he put it, with some skullduggery of his own.
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Johnson said with a laugh.
Johnson's pollster Con "Spin" Fabulist told him that None of the Above was polling at 17 percent in national polls, trailing both Clinton and Trump but still above the 15 percent threshold to participate in the debate. The commission, however, requires that anyone participating in the debate "must be an actual person."
The second presidential debate is October 4.
If Johnson became None of the Above, Fabulist told him, his polling numbers would rise to more than 20 percent.
Political analyst Ralph Upchuck of Upchuck Politics called Johnson's decision to change his name a "brilliant" strategic decision.
"Johnson is a candidate with low polling numbers. None of the Above has high polling numbers but is not a candidate," Upchuck said. "By becoming None of the Above, Johnson becomes a candidate with competitive polling numbers and none of the baggage of either Clinton or Trump."
By contrast, only 8 percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of None of the Above. Seventy-two percent have a favorable view and 20 percent have no opinion.
Johnson, a two-term governor of New Mexico who is in his first presidential campaign, said he felt sure he would pick up ground in the polls simply by sharing a stage with Clinton and Trump.
"I could sit down between Clinton and Trump and do nothing but drool and play with a dead mouse for two hours," Johnson said, "and I'd probably pick up 10 points."
If the Federal Election Commission approves Johnson's petition, he would still face the daunting task of having his name changed on the ballots in each of the 50 states so close to the election. But, fortunately for Johnson, many states already have None of the Above listed on the ballot.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who is Johnson's running mate, said he plans to file a petition to formally change his name to "Other."