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Ace Watkins

The 2020 presidential election is seeing a new challenger.

The 2020 presidential election grows closer every day, and Democratic candidates are making appeals to voters across America in an attempt to top the polls — and, eventually, the candidacy. The 12 candidates appeared onstage at the Oct. 15 debate, the fourth that will take place prior to the election next November, and it can be difficult to decide who to vote for. Many of the highest-polling candidates have similar positions on health care, the environment and social causes. Oftentimes their only obvious distinctions lie in their personalities, and if a candidate falls behind the top five, their chances of being remembered are low. Sometimes, though, a candidate will run on such a unique platform that it’s hard to forget about them, even when they have no chance of winning. Ace Watkins is one of those candidates.

On July 8, 2019, a Twitter user named @gamerpres2020 tweeted the official announcement of Ace Watkins’s 2020 campaign for president. The accompanying video shows Watkins describing himself as “ready to serve as your first gamer president,” and as a “healer,” a term for a video game character that protects and gives support to other team members. The cursing and gamer culture in-jokes, like a pointed insult toward people who play games on their phone, make it clear that the campaign isn’t as legitimate as most — or legitimate at all — but it’s entertaining.

Watkins’ campaign is advertised as being run by Hard Drive Magazine, a satirical website that focuses on video games and video game culture. Members of this culture are often called “gamers” for short, a term which used to be a dismissive generalization before it was adopted as a genuine identity. Hard Drive has a history of mixing its politics with its gaming satire, releasing such articles as “Here’s a Smash Bros. Rumor to Distract You From the Concentration Camps” — a parody of the use of pop culture headlines to divert attention from the crisis at the southern border of the United States — but this is the website’s first foray into a presidential campaign, even a satirical one.

This isn’t the first time that there have been satirical candidates in the presidential race. In August 2016, the Federal Election Commission placed restrictions on who is allowed to file for candidacy, presumably because of an increase in the number of prank candidates in the 2016 election. These candidates included a cat named Limberbutt McCubbins and a 15-year-old named Brady Olson, who campaigned under the moniker of “Deez Nuts.” Despite earning positive polling results, such as polling at 3% in Texas while Green Party candidate Jill Stein polled at 2%, Olson was forced to drop out of the race because of his age. Regardless, running for president as a prank garners national attention. Watkins is no different.

Without the presidential debates or mainstream coverage to propel his campaign, Watkins has relied on Twitter and the Hard Drive website to spread awareness. Within a day of his announcement, Watkins had amassed more Twitter followers than John Delaney, a 2020 candidate who appeared in the first two Democratic Party presidential debates. Watkins’s Twitter popularity has remained consistent — his campaign announcement received 7.2k retweets, and many of his tweets afterward have reached similar or better milestones, with a Sept. 5 tweet in support of trans rights reaching over 15,300 retweets. He has also written articles for Hard Drive in which he makes policy proposals, such as changing the order of the alphabet in order to appeal to fighting game players or demanding a “minimum viewership” for people who stream video games online.

Outside of Twitter, Watkins has also done interviews for Newsweek and answered questions on Reddit. In his Newsweek interview, Watkins clarified many of his policies as being left-leaning, but filtered through a lens of gaming culture. For example, he criticizes corporations for prioritizing profits over consumer satisfaction, and by doing so, betraying their customers. This critique of the tenets of capitalism is expressed through an attack on the profit-driven actions of game publisher Electronic Arts, which has been notorious for hiding content in games behind optional paywalls. He stated that EA’s profits would “be better spent guaranteeing video games to all Americans regardless of race, class, and skillz.” While this could easily be applied to the insurance industry or any other number of social problems, Watkins cares about video games.

The biggest moment for Watkins’ campaign so far came at the end of September. On Sept. 29, Watkins and several stand-up comedians performed at the Caveat in New York City to speak to his constituents and spread his policies. The event was sponsored by Hard Drive and the ticket price prior to entry was $13.37, another gaming terminology in-joke. Those who missed out on the rally had another chance if they went to New York Comic-Con, where Watkins held another rally on Oct. 5. The video clips from his appearance show a small crowd of fans surrounding him as he gives a speech about how games have shaped the lives of Americans for centuries, and that those Americans need a gamer in the White House. He also reminded supporters of the central message in his campaign: “We are all gamers.”

Unfortunately for supporters, Watkins cannot officially enter the 2020 race. He’s a character, portrayed by Phil Jamesson, who is a comedian and actor from New York. He’s written for websites like Medium and currently makes short videos on YouTube when not performing as Ace Watkins. Even if he and Hard Drive wanted his campaign to become a reality, Jamesson is not yet 35 years old, the minimum age for a presidential candidate; even if he was older, the updated FEC standards after 2016 would likely prevent him from officially being placed in the running.

The fact that Watkins won’t be a serious contender for the presidency hasn’t stopped him or his supporters from gathering support. When a majority of the candidates in the Democratic primary have issues standing out, Watkins is a much needed revive potion for jaded and uninterested voters.

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