SOUTHBRIDGE — The sun blazed during Frank DeCota’s tour of his campaign headquarters, nestled on three lush acres with a rolling stream and wooded trail.
It’s a godsend after a stressful day of politics, he said.
A 25-foot American flag adorns a cabin, his office, where his campaign team occupies the first floor and DeCota’s “messaging center” takes the second.
These are modest accommodations compared to those of the 59-year-old’s rivals. DeCota is running for president with the help of his house, his laptop, and his campaign team — two cats.
“What fired me up was seeing all the things going on. There is no accountability,” he said. “I’m a veteran and I’m a biker: Isn’t that what this country needs?”
As of this week, 539 Americans have filed paperwork to run for the nation’s highest office — including nine from New England, according to data provided by the Federal Election Committee. By July, the number of people nationwide who filed to run for president with the FEC had increased 15 percent from 2012 and 31 percent from 2008.
Separately, presidential candidates must also file to run in the states. In New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary, a candidate only needs $1,000 to appear on the ballot. Thanks in part to this relatively low bar, 30 Republicans appeared on the state ballot in the last presidential race.
Some of the presidential candidates have well-known names, such as New York businessman Donald J. Trump, who filed on June 22, or John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who entered the race on July 23. In total, there are 22 well-known candidates gunning for the White House, and many more who run in obscurity.
Morrison Bonpasse is running for president to raise awareness of three friends in prison whom he feels are wrongfully convicted. The 67-year-old from Newcastle, Maine, is a lawyer and a former private investigator, and has unsuccessfully run for office in his home state and Massachusetts.
“I want to win, but I’m realistic,” Bonpasse said. “I know it won’t likely happen unless something goes dramatically different.”
But when asked whether he could do the job, Bonpasse’s optimism kicked in. “Presidents still put their pants on one leg at a time,” he said.
Margaret Davidson, a 68-year-old from Hyannis, said she decided to declare a bid for president after she was fed up with gridlock politics and partisan squabbling. Davidson was particularly disturbed by the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks in Libya.
She filed her paperwork to run — a Form 2 — with the FEC in December 2014.
“The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, just like the Middle Ages,” Davidson said.
Like DeCota, she has filed to run for president as an independent candidate. About 60 percent of presidential candidates who have filed with the FEC are not registered with traditional parties.
Davidson, who is retired, said she has no plans to actively campaign at this time, though she remains dissatisfied with politics. “All these political people are just attorneys who know documents,” she said. “They don’t know people.”
DeCota said he is campaigning on the Internet and social networks. The “Frank DeCota for President 2016” Facebook group has more than 1,200 likes. He also has a website, a Facebook public figure page, and a similar profile on LinkedIn.
On Jan. 29, DeCota launched his presidential bid in a Facebook post, writing, “We need to take our country back from the central planners, the elected officials who are owned by big money.” The Army veteran went into more detail in a June interview, describing how a motorcycle accident forced him out of work in 2005.
The time off has helped hone his political acumen, he said, allowing him to spend hours in chat rooms, researching politics websites, and watching cable news.
“I felt like the timing was right. People from both parties think that the government has let people down, and they’re tired of professional politicians,” he said. “They want someone normal. I’m not beholden to anyone, and I’m not worrying about any pressures or influence.”
DeCota, Davidson, and the hundreds of other fringe candidates have nearly nonexistent chances of winning the election, according to David Rehr, a program director at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. But Rehr said these lesser-known candidates do have one advantage.
“One of the challenges of major party candidates is to understand their own reality, but for these candidates, that’s who they are 24 hours a day,” he said. “They don’t have handlers or pollsters. There’s no research on what color tie to wear.”
Rehr called it the “sobering reality of democracy” that not everyone who runs for political office has an equal shot. In addition to available funds, major candidates have advantages in access and personal connections, which can matter even more than cash, he said.
Consider this: A top presidential candidate needs staff to navigate the complicated system of collecting support from delegates, media connections to get free airtime and press, and a national volunteer network to get out the vote.
Plus, some states charge much more than New Hampshire to be on the ballot. For example, the South Carolina Republican Party charges $40,000 to any campaign that wants to get on its presidential primary ballot in 2016. If candidates want to run in the primary, they must pay these in addition to filing paperwork with the FEC.
DeCota said this is why he is conducting a write-in campaign. He has yet to receive any campaign donations and cannot afford to spend more of his fixed monthly income on his campaign.
“I just need some luck, and then it’ll take off,” he said.
This presidential race features three major Republican candidates that have no previous political experience: former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, and Trump.
Trump, specifically, has surged in national polls — a trend Republicans chalk up to his bombastic style and criticism of politicians. DeCota said he tries to mimic Trump’s style in his Facebook posts.
When asked whether he’d support any candidate other than himself, DeCota named the New York billionaire.
The difference, of course, is their net worth.
“For the average American, there seems to be a mismatch into what they’re putting into the system and they’re getting back,” Rehr said. “And people are hungry for authenticity, even if it comes with rough edges.”