By Adam Pagnucco.
Businessman David Blair is being criticized for contributing $1.9 million to his campaign for County Executive. Council Member Marc Elrich, who is also running for Executive, told the Post, “David Blair can use money to commission polls and then create an image of himself based on poll results… We’ve had enough of buying images and elections.” That leads us to a question.
How have other big self-funders done in MoCo?
The chart below shows all MoCo-based candidates since the 2006 cycle who have self-financed at least $200,000 in an election.
Notice something? Only one of these folks won the election in which they self-financed at least $200,000: Congressman John Delaney.
Why did so many of these self-funders lose? Here are a few reasons applying to various races.
They ran in the wrong district.
This might be the biggest reason Total Wine co-owner David Trone lost the Congressional District 8 race despite massively outspending the winner, Jamie Raskin. The odds were long that CD8, with its dark blue enclaves of Takoma Park, Downtown Silver Spring, Kensington and Chevy Chase, would elect an alcohol salesman over a progressive, brainy and likeable college professor. Trone is much better off in CD6 with its more moderate voters. Similarly, real estate developer Josh Rales was no match for long-time Congressman Ben Cardin and former Congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume in a statewide U.S. Senate primary.
They challenged an incumbent.
Dana Beyer and Amie Hoeber had uphill battles running against incumbents. Hoeber’s entry on this list deserves an asterisk because her committee funding did not include $3.8 million in outside spending by her husband.
Their message wasn’t great.
CD8 candidate Kathleen Matthews had a very generic message primarily targeted at women. District 20 House candidate Jonathan Shurberg’s message was indistinguishable from the other candidates in his race, some of whom were endorsed by Raskin and had the Apple Ballot. District 19 Senator Mike Lenett ran one of the most negative campaigns in MoCo history against the man who went on to defeat him, Delegate Roger Manno. Lenett’s Holocaust mailer was a killer mistake in the last days of the race.
They motivated the other side.
One veteran of Raskin’s congressional campaign told us, “We had a motto. You can outspend us but you will not outwork us!” Raskin’s door-knockers were dwarfed by Trone’s army but they were well-trained and highly motivated on his behalf. (This was evident by their comparative performances at your author’s door!) In the end, true-believer volunteers proved more effective than more numerous hirelings.
Delaney was the exception because he ran in a district that fit a center-left businessman, his main Democratic opponent took the election for granted, Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett was on his last legs and the district was gerrymandered to elect a Democrat. But there was more: in addition to his self-funding, Delaney raised $2 million in outside money during his first win in 2012. Most of his fundraising in his next two wins came from others and not himself.
There is no question that self-financing capacity is an advantage. But little in MoCo’s recent political history supports the notion that elections here can be outright bought. If Blair wins, it won’t just be because of money. As one of the wisest MoCo election observers we know told us recently, “You know, the reason self-funders usually lose is because they have a crappy (or no) message. But when they have a concise message… look out!”
Disclosure: The Executive candidate we are supporting, Roger Berliner, is not self-funding his race. If he did that, his wife would kill him!