WASHINGTON -- A political candidate being dramatically outspent by his opponent has few options. He can pin his hopes on a strong debate performance, dig up dirt on the opposition, or cut a particularly buzz-worthy television ad.

Or he can do what other industries, led by Major League Baseball, have done before: worship at the altar of Bill James.

James is the high priest of baseball number-crunching. In 1977, he began publishing the "Bill James Baseball Abstracts," which paved the way for "sabermetrics," a system of statistical analysis that fundamentally transformed the sport. In 2006, Time magazine named James one of the 100 most influential people in the world. If Billy Beane, manager of the perennially low-budget Oakland Athletics, is the face of "Moneyball" -- the ethos of small-budget teams competing against well-funded opponents -- James is its brain.

He hasn't dabbled much in politics before. But in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions, James' analytical approach has become more relevant to the political conversation.

The Obama campaign and allied Democrats have begun preaching "Moneyball"-like theories about how to compete against the onslaught of conservative super PAC spending this election cycle. But it's unclear whether they have time to put those ideas into practice or the ability and willingness to undertake such a dramatic shift.

That's because much of what James has to offer candidates facing financial deficits is quirky and unconventional. Often it involves throwing the traditional campaign playbook out the window.

"If you're outspent in a campaign, what you absolutely cannot do is start a pissing contest, pardon my French," James wrote in an email. "If you're outspent and you start talking about your opponent being corrupt and senile, you're in BIG trouble, because he's got a lot more guns than you have."

Instead of going negative, he advised, a candidate should do the exact opposite. "Talk about your opponent in the nicest terms that you CAN, in order to take certain weapons away from him," James wrote. "If you're speaking well of your opponent and your opponent is savaging you, there is a chance he comes off looking like an ass and you can win the election."

Beyond that, James suggested a candidate run on a platform distinct from either major party (anti-drug war, pro-gay rights). Or a candidate could obsess over an issue completely off the beaten path. As an example, he highlighted deer-related car crashes in his home state of Kansas. "No one talks about people hitting deer with their cars as a political issue, but in Kansas" it could work, he said.

"If a candidate for office starts talking about thinning the deer population or investing in barriers to reduce the number of deer on the highways, the other side will probably just ignore him, because they're not going to know what to say about it," he said. "But there is a chance that the issue will resonate with voters in an unexpected way."

It may seem like a far-fetched theory from a guy who has spent his career crunching data from the diamond.

"In Kansas, we are pretty anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood," said Burdett "Bird" Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who happens to live down the street from James. "I'm not sure we are going to go for contraception for deer."

But, as is usually the case with James, a closer look at the numbers suggests that the unconventional may be true. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation's latest data, deer were responsible for 15 percent of all car crashes in 2011 -- 9,153 crashes in total. Twice, people were killed; 293 times they were injured.

"It is a popular subject in Kansas," conceded Rex McCommon, a Transportation Department official.

BREAKFAST CEREAL CRUSADE

Unlike baseball, where statisticians pore over everything from earned run average (traditional metrics) to batting average on balls in play (sabermetric bliss), politics has seen limited breakthroughs from obsessive data analysis.

Democratic operatives established the company Catalist in 2006 to develop a comprehensive portrait of voters, from geographic locations to commercial preferences. The opposition research outfit American Bridge is building a massive video database recording Republican candidates' every utterance. But even as information is becoming more readily available, there has been little innovation.

"There aren't any good databases" in politics, said Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, an organization devoted to studying sabermetrics. "You would need like the last 50, 100 Senate campaigns. ... You would need the full books. Like this was the money. This is what they spent it on. You have to create categories: mail, personal appearances, television ads. And then you need to break up the television ads: positive ads, negative ads. How valuable was it? How valuable is going to the local diner? How valuable is the ad that says my opponent is a nimrod? There are so many things that you would need. ... I don't know anyone who is doing that."

Washington is uniquely behind the curve. Goldstein said he and his colleagues have been approached by a number of industries buying into the gospel of data. Hollywood, in particular, is trying to figure out better methods of turning a movie into a blockbuster. Political campaigns have not yet made that jump.

Part of the reason is that there aren't regular barometers to measure success and failure, or to apply lessons learned. In baseball, teams play 162 games each season. In Hollywood, movies come out weekly. In politics, congressional elections happen every two years and presidential contests every four.

"It's not as easy to test your ideas out and learn from your mistakes," said Nate Silver, The New York Times polling guru whose roots are in Baseball Prospectus, a website publisher devoted to sabremetrics. "Meanwhile, politics is intrinsically a somewhat reality-denying enterprise and a business in which candidates and campaign officials compete on the basis of how much they can spin the truth," he explained. "Anything that threatens to connect political operatives with reality is therefore likely to be viewed with some suspicion."

That said, a few campaigns have executed James' theories about electoral politics -- with promising effects.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has wrung political benefits out of seemingly minor issues throughout his career. Phil Singer, a former Schumer aide, recalled how Schumer campaigned on reducing the cost of breakfast cereal in his 1996 House race, going so far as to demand a Justice Department anti-trust investigation. Schumer still lists his breakfast cereal crusade among his career accomplishments.

"In any given campaign situation, the goal is to reach the people who are most likely to vote, but don't follow the race on a minute-to-minute basis," said Singer. "And to connect with that group, the campaign needs to identify issues in their daily lives that will resonate with them even if it may not be part of the national zeitgeist. This is true if you are spending more than your opponent or being outspent by your opponent."

More pertinent to 2012 is James' theory that outspent candidates would be better off going nice. At a recent briefing with reporters at Bloomberg View, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made that point when discussing why many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, declined to follow the Obama campaign in criticizing Mitt Romney's private equity career.

"He is not off message," said Rendell, also former head of the Democratic National Committee. "Bill Clinton is an extraordinarily smart politician. ... This is something that I did as DNC chair. You don't demonize your opponent because it builds your credibility. ... Bill Clinton is going to be lights out in October when it counts. And the average undecided voter is going to remember that he didn't trash Governor Romney, that he said he was a decent guy with good qualifications."

The most innovative politician when it comes to adopting data-driven campaign theories may be Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). As Sasha Issenberg documented in his book "Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America," the classic shoot-from-the-hip governor turned over his political operation to a pair of Yale professors.

The head of that team, Perry's longtime adviser Dave Carney, had been dismayed by the absence of market research in his profession. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he recalled how in Florida, the Republican Party sent a welcome note and a voter registration card to every Republican voter who moved into the state. But party officials never compared registration rates from counties where the notes and cards were sent to those where they weren't. They simply sent them everywhere. Conducting that test could have saved money, but no one thought to do it.

In Texas, Carney and the rest of the egghead crew decided to conduct those types of experiments and came away with several conclusions. Introductory television ads -- those that come early in the campaign to frame the candidate -- were ineffective. Traditional campaign expenditures for lawn signs, direct mail, robocalls, newspaper ads and editorial board visits were often not worth the cost, either.

Notoriously thrifty, Perry saved $3 million in his 2010 primary campaign against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) by forgoing those functions. Instead, he used the money to set up what Issenberg called "a virtual network" of "home headquarters" in which volunteers were paid $20 for signing up friends and neighbors to vote for the governor. Perry ended up defeating Hutchinson by 20 percentage points.

"The biggest lesson we learned is that a lot of the testimony, propaganda and assertions made by vendors and campaign operatives about the success of their work and their product and their competitor's products are baseless and don't hold up to scrutiny," Carney said. "A lot of times, campaigns confuse motion for progress and we end up doing a lot of things that we did in the past."

LATINO EMBRACE?

For all of the data culled from his gubernatorial campaign, however, Perry proved a flop as a presidential candidate. He raised nearly $20 million, spent virtually all of it, and won a grand total of zero delegates.

"Our field experiments were for a Texas race. The results would not have transferred one-to-one," explained Carney. "But we did use some of the findings, although we never had the lead time to implement them to a significant degree."

A presidential election, indeed, requires a different type of campaign than a run for the governorship of the nation's second-largest state. There are different constituencies to which a candidate must tend and -- certainly in Perry's case -- a tighter political calendar in which to operate. And so, the question facing other 2012 candidates is not just whether deep statistical analysis can work for their campaigns, but how fast it can have an effect.

In his book, "The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First," Jonah Keri examined how the Tampa Bay Rays -- a perennial doormat in baseball's toughest division -- became one of the best-run and most successful franchises in the game.

"They don't participate in the same game as the Yankees and the Red Sox do," Keri explained in an interview, "and so they had to think differently."

Instead of pursuing big-name free agents, the team's management placed value in underappreciated aspects of the game, like defensive proficiency. Mainly, however, they invested their limited resources in unearthing young talent in the draft.

An underfunded political campaign and the Tampa Bay Rays "could not be more analogous," Keri said. And just like a team putting heavy stock in a strong farm system, party operatives would be smart to focus on the foundations of long-term success.

"The one thing I could think of is to have a very pro-immigration stance," Keri said. "Even for Obama, there has been a record number of deportations. ... And he is supposed to be a kinder, gentler liberal. ... The first presidential candidate who came out and did this could attract a wave of support from that community."

Keri lives in Colorado, a swing state with a large Latino population, but also a history of anti-immigrant sentiment. Announcing support for more lenient immigration policy carries certain risks, he conceded. But it's a bet that sabermetric adherents would make.

Even then, however, it's unclear whether the benefits of launching a full-on Latino courtship would be felt in the 2012 election. The New York Times recently reported that members of that community aren't registering to vote at a pace reflecting population growth.

For underfunded campaigns in need of a quick boost, attention has turned away from far-reaching policy proposals like immigration reform and toward campaign operational features.

Democrats have invested heavily in get-out-the-vote operations. The union super PAC, Workers' Voice, has made it an almost exclusive focus, while the Obama campaign has sought to soothe supporter anxiety over Romney's fundraising superiority by noting how much further ahead they are in ground-game operations.

The strategy is a logical extension of the Obama campaign's grassroots operation in 2008, as well as labor's traditional role in organizing. It is also contains elements of what Carney and his fellow eggheads did in Texas, where they relied heavily on person-to-person contact.

"We are trying to build a new paradigm, where networks of co-workers, families and neighbors talking to each other -- both online and offline -- counter the endless stream of negative TV ads," explained Eddie Vale, a spokesman for Workers' Voice.

But while Vale insisted his group's plans are both short-term and long-term -- voter contacts done in 2012 can be repeated once more in 2014 -- both he and others in the progressive movement have yet to display a willingness to think as unconventionally as James advises. Moreover, if the expectation is that the Democratic Party could use these means to simply squeak out a victory, James offered skepticism.

James likened the idea of trying to win an election through get-out-the-vote drives as "analogous to trying to win a pennant race by doing better in the close games." A team that won 75 games and lost 87 over the course of a season could get to 90 wins if they changed their win-loss record in one-run games from 26-29 to 41-14.

"It can happen," James said. "But it's a lousy strategy."

"When people disagree with you, what you ultimately have to do is persuade people to agree with you -- period," he added. "You can't ultimately dodge defeat by winning close elections."

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  • Harold And Annette Simmons (R)

    Harold Simmons, the octogenarian Dallas businessman, combined with his wife Annette and his company, Contran Corp., to donate $26,765,000 to super PACs. Simmons is listed in <em>Forbes</em> magazine as the 33rd richest person in America with a net worth of $9.3 billion. Simmons and Contran donated $19.5 million to American Crossroads, $2.3 million to Restore Our Future (supporting Mitt Romney), $1 million to Make Us Great Again (supporting Rick Perry), $1.1 million to Winning Our Future (supporting Newt Gingrich) and $100,000 to Restoring Prosperity Fund (formerly Americans for Rick Perry). Annette Simmons gave $1.2 million to Red White And Blue Fund (supporting Rick Santorum). Simmons has also given $1.1 million to Texas Conservatives Fund and $500,000 to Conservative Renewal PAC, both super PACs supporting Senate candidate David Dewhurst. He gave another $50,000 to Strong Utah PAC, $10,000 to Conservatives Action Together and $5,000 to Freedom PAC, which supports Connie Mack for Senate in Florida. Simmons -- who explained that he is contributing money to super PACs to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/harold-simmons-obama_n_1371642.html">stop "that socialist," President Barack Obama</a> -- remains in second place among super PAC donors.

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    Texas homebuilder Bob Perry contributed $21,465,000 million to super PACs. Perry is one of the most prolific donors in contemporary political history. He was a major backer of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the outside group that helped torpedo John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. Perry's net worth has been estimated at around $650 million. Perry has given $10 million to Restore Our Future (supporting Romney), $7.5 million to American Crossroads, $1 million to Congressional Leadership Fund, $1 million to Club for Growth Action, $750,000 to Independence Virginia (supporting George Allen), $500,000 to Texas Conservatives Fund (supporting David Dewhurst), $250,000 to Freedom PAC, $100,000 to Make Us Great Again (supporting Rick Perry, who is of no relation) and $15,000 to Maverick PAC.

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    Fred Eychaner, the Chicago-based media mogul who made his fortune with Newsweb Corp., has given $11.8 million to super PACs. He is a longtime funder of outside groups backing Democrats, having contributed $2 million to so-called 527 groups in the effort to defeat President George W. Bush in 2004. Eychaner is also a noted LGBT activist and has funded efforts to promote equality. Eychaner gave $3.8 to Majority PAC, $3.75 to House Majority PAC, $3.5 million to Priorities USA Action (supporting Obama), $500,000 to Women Vote!, $200,000 to America Votes Action Fund and $50,000 to L PAC.

  • United Auto Workers (D)

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  • John Childs (R)

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  • United Association (D)

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  • Crow Holdings LLC, Harlan Crow and Trammell Crow (R)

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    Four companies -- Dealer Computer Services, CRC Information Systems, Fairbanks Properties and Waterbury Properties -- sharing the same address as The Reynolds & Reynolds Company headed by Bob Brockman, have given $2.75 million to super PACs. CRC Information Systems, Fairbanks Properties and Waterbury Properties combined to give $1 million to Restore Our Future and another $1 million to American Crossroads. The Reynolds and Reynolds Company gave $500,000 to American Crossroads. Dealer Computer Services has given $200,000 to the pro-David Dewhurst Texas Conservatives Fund and $50,000 to Restoring Prosperity Fund.

  • Kenneth And Anne Griffin (R)

    Kenneth Griffin, the head of the massive hedge fund Citadel, has contributed $2.58 million to super PACs. Griffin is ranked 173rd on the <em>Forbes</em> list of richest Americans. In 2008, he helped raise money for then-Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic primary, but switched to support Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the general election. Griffin has since become increasingly critical of President Obama and what he considers to be class warfare rhetoric coming from the White House. He stated that the wealthy have "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/11/ken-griffin-mitt-romney_n_1337721.html" target="_hplink">insufficient influence</a>" in politics and urged the rich to donate to political efforts to preserve their position atop the food chain. Griffin has given $1.55 million to Restore Our Future (supporting Mitt Romney) and $1 million to American Crossroads. His wife, Anne, gave $30,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

  • George Soros (D)

    George Soros, the noted hedge fund investor and long-time Democratic donor, has contributed $2.525 million to super PACs when including contributions that he gave in October. Soros became famous for his political contributions after he gave more than $30 million to 527 groups to defeat former President George W. Bush in 2004. He has reached a mythological status with some conservatives as a wildly influential figure in world politics. In reported contributions, Soros has given $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, $1 million to Priorities USA Action (supporting Barack Obama), $425,000 to House Majority PAC and $100,000 to Majority PAC.

  • Foster Friess (R)

    Foster Friess, the Wyoming investor, contributed $2.52 million to super PACs, mostly to those supporting the presidential candidacy of Rick Santorum. Since Santorum dropped out of the race, Friess has shifted his contributions to help Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans. Friess is estimated to be worth above $500 million. He has given $2.1 million to Red White and Blue Fund (supporting Santorum), $100,000 to Restore Our Future (supporting Mitt Romney), $100,000 to FreedomWorks, $50,000 to Leaders for Families (also supporting Santorum), $50,000 to Freedom PAC, $25,000 to Friends of the Majority, $25,000 to USA Super PAC, $10,000 to Freedom Born Fund, $10,000 to Arizonans for Jobs, $10,000 for Independence Virginia PAC,$10,000 to Club for Growth Action, $5,000 to Fund for Freedom and $872 to Jan PAC.

  • Chevron (R)

    Chevron, one of the nation's five largest companies, gave $2.5 million to Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives.

  • Weaver Popcorn (R)

    Weaver Popcorn, the Indiana-based popcorn maker owned by Michael Weaver, has contributed $2.4 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Republican operative Karl Rove. The company is one of the largest popcorn companies in the United States and is best known for their Pop Weaver brand.

  • Paul Singer (R)

    Paul Singer (pictured far right), the hedge fund titan in charge of Elliot Associates, contributed $2.258 million to super PACs through June 2012. Singer has an estimated worth of $900 million. He has given $1,158,211 million to American Unity, a super PAC meant to support pro-gay marriage Republican candidates for office, $1 million to Restore Our Future (supporting Romney) and $100,000 to Club for Growth Action.

  • William Dore (R)

    William Dore, the Louisiana energy executive, gave $2.25 million to Red White and Blue Fund (supporting Santorum). This was the biggest foray into political giving by Dore, who has previously cut large checks for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Republican Governors Association. He is estimated to be worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Credit: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_KzFkneorU" target="_hplink">YouTube</a>

  • Jon Stryker (D)

    Jon Stryker, an architect and heir to the Stryker Corporation fortune, has contributed $2.25 million to super PACs. Stryker has given $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting Barack Obama, and $250,000 to House Majority PAC. Stryker is worth $1.1 billion and ranks 375th on the Fortune 400 richest Americans list. He is a noted GLBT activist having donated money to groups including the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Stryker is also the founder of the Arcus Foundation, the largest grant maker for gay and lesbian activism in the nation. Stryker has spent big in the past to help elect Democrats and oust Republicans from office in his home state of Michigan. (Pictured: President Barack Obama, the candidate supported by Stryker's contribution.)

  • Julian Robertson (R)

    Julian Robertson, the hedge fund titan and founder of Tiger Management, contributed $2.25 million to Restore Our Future (supporting Romney) in the current election cycle. Robertson is ranked 166 on the <em>Forbes</em> list of richest Americans, with a net worth of $2.4 billion.

  • FreedomWorks (R)

    FreedomWorks, the conservative nonprofit organization, contributed $2,236,514 to its super PAC, FreedomWorks for America. The group is run by former Rep. Dick Armey and was instrumental in organizing the original Tea Party protests in 2009. The super PAC has been active in Republican Senate primaries backing Richard Mourdock's successful campaign to beat Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana. The group also also thrown its weight behind Ted Cruz in Texas and Don Stenberg in Nebraska. Stenberg lost his primary to state Sen. Deb Fischer and Cruz faces a run-off election against Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The group is also spending money to defeat Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah. FreedomWorks has been spending money to help elect Tea Party Senate candidates like Cruz and Mourdock in the general election.

  • National Association Of Letter Carriers (D)

    The National Association of Letter Carriers' political action committee, the Committee on Letter Carriers Political Education Fund, gave $2,225,919 to super PACs during the 2012 election cycle. The union gave $1,213,919 to the AFL-CIO super PAC, Workers' Voice, $512,000 to House Majority PAC and $500,000 to Majority PAC.

  • Jon Huntsman Sr. (R)

    Jon Huntsman Sr., the billionaire Utah industrialist, contributed $2.22 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential candidacy of his son, Jon Huntsman Jr. Huntsman Sr. has given away much of his fortune in recent years and is estimated to be worth slightly north of $1 billion. Huntsman's contributions to Our Destiny, the super PAC backing his son in the Republican primary contest, came under scrutiny based on the laws banning coordination between super PACs and campaigns.

  • Irwin Jacobs (D)

    Irwin Jacobs, a founder of Qualcomm, has contributed $2.2 million to super PACs. Jacobs is worth $1.15 billion and ranks 372nd on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. Jacobs has given $2 million to Priorities USA Action (supporting Barack Obama) $100,000 to Majority PAC and $100,000 to American Bridge 21st Century.

  • National Association of Realtors (I)

    The National Association of Realtors, the primary trade association for realtors, has contributed $2,110,485 to its own super PAC in the 2012 election cycle. The group has long been a player in congressional elections and has already spent significant amounts to help Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) hold his newly redistricted seat in the 2012 elections.

  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association (D)

    The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has given $2,106,597 to super PACs during the 2012 election cycle. The union represents 20,000 controllers, engineers and other professionals involved in air traffic control. The union gave $1.25 million to Priorities USA Action (supporting Barack Obama), $600,000 to Majority PAC, $156,597 to the AFL-CIO Workers' Voice and $100,000 to House Majority PAC.

  • Warren Stephens, Stephens Investment Holding & Stephens Inc. (R)

    Warren Stephens, the head of Stephens, Inc., has contributed $2.05 million to super PACs. Stephens is tied for the position of 130th richest American, according to Forbes. Stephens has given $1.5 million to American Crossroads, $500,000 to Restore Our Future (supporting Romney) and $50,000 to Congressional Leadership Fund. (Pictured: Stephens, right, with President George W. Bush.)

  • Laborers' International Union (D)

    The Laborers' International Union, which represents a half-million construction workers, has given $2.025 million to super PACs. The union gave $1.3 million to House Majority PAC, $650,000 to Majority PAC, $70,000 to Workers' Voice and $5,000 to The American Worker.

  • Richard Roberts (R)

    Richard Roberts, an adviser at Mutual Pharmacy, has given $2.1 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle. Roberts gave $1 million to Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition, $750,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, $250,000 to American Crossroads and $10,000 to Patriot Prosperity PAC. (Pictured: Mitt Romney, the candidate supported by Roberts' contribution.)

  • The Morses, The Villages & Other Companies (R)

    H. Gary Morse, his wife, their children, the retirement community they operate, The Villages, and a number of subsidiary companies have combined to contribute $2,003,400 to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle. The Morses and their companies contributed $1,753,400 to Restore Our Future (supporting Mitt Romney), $200,000 to American Crossroads and $50,000 to Freedom PAC (supporting Connie Mack). H. Gary Morse is part of Romney's Florida finance team and has hosted fundraisers for the former Massachusetts governor. The family's super PAC giving has all gone to support Romney's bid. Through September, a series of subsidiary companies controlled by The Villages and H. Gary Morse contributed $1.25 million to Restore Our Future and American Crossroads.

  • Anne Cox Chambers (D)

    Anne Cox Chambers, the owner of the media company Cox Enterprises, has contributed $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing President Barack Obama. Chambers is also the daughter of failed 1920 Democratic presidential nominee James Cox. Chambers is the 26th richest American, according to the Forbes 400 list, with a net worth of $12 billion.