In politics, a placeholder is an official appointed temporarily to a position, with the understanding that they will not seek office in their own right.
The situation often occurs in cases where a United States Senator leaves office before the expiration of their term. In most states, governors have the power to appoint a replacement temporarily, until a special election can be held. If a governor is interested in seeking office, he or she may appoint themselves to the position; however, this may be seen by voters in a negative light, and may backfire, leading to the new senator's defeat. To avoid this, the governor may instead select an aide or elder statesman to fill the slot for a few months. Sen. George LeMieux of Florida, for example, was appointed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to a senate seat that Crist ultimately sought.
Placeholders may also be used in cases where more than one member of a party is interested in seeking the office, and the governor does not wish to choose between competing members of his or her own party. Placeholders may also be appointed when a senator leaves office while a campaign for his or her seat is already underway, so as not to affect the outcome of the election. For example, after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002 just weeks before election day, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura appointed Dean Barkley to serve, as Barkley was not running for the office, and his appointment would not affect the election.
Historically, in cases where a politician died in office, a variation known as widow's succession was sometimes followed, where the deceased politician's widow was appointed to the seat as a placeholder.
A subset of placeholders is the placeholder candidate. A placeholder candidate is used in politics as a temporary stand-in for ballot access petitioning purposes until the actual nominees are decided. The need for such placeholders arises from the fact that many third parties must begin their petitioning efforts to meet ballot access deadlines well before their nominating conventions. In any event, the petitions are technically to put presidential electors on the ballot, who may switch their allegiance at any time. In 2008, Michael Badnarik was used as a placeholder candidate in Libertarian petitioning, and Michael Bloomberg and Gail Parker were used as placeholders in Independent Green petitioning. The use of placeholders is sometimes criticized as deceptive.
Perhaps the best-known placeholder candidate was retired Admiral James Stockdale, who had been used in 1992 as a placeholder vice presidential candidate by activists seeking to draft Ross Perot to run for the presidency as an independent. By the time Perot committed to run, it was too late to remove Stockdale's name from the ballot, and Stockdale remained on the ticket, even joining Dan Quayle and Al Gore in the nationally televised vice presidential debate, where Stockdale quipped, "Who am I? Why am I here?" in his introductory speech.
- Amira, Dan (July 16, 2010). "Carte Goodwin, 36, Gets to Be a Senator for a Few Months". New York Magazine.
- Carmen, Barbara (February 23, 2008). "GOP candidate fighting challenge from 'placeholder'". The Columbus Dispatch.
- Lehrer, Jim (September 4, 1999). "James Stockdale Interview". Debating Our Destiny. PBS.