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Jerry Kremer Headshot

When Self-Funding Goes Awry

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In these days of tight money everybody is looking for a bargain. Consumers want deep discounts on anything they buy. Political leaders want candidates who can pay for their own campaigns. This year's elections should serve as a warning to the party leaders that self-funded candidates are no bargain.

There is no doubt that a few rich candidates for Congress and local offices will have won on Tuesday, but the better known names on the political radar turned out to be one big flop.

The top loser in the race for success is the Republican candidate for governor of California, former eBay Chair Meg Whitman. She spent at least $140 million of her own money for the distinction of losing to former California Governor Jerry Brown. Her campaign was a disaster from Day 1, once she won her party's nomination.

A logical person would assume that the first question asked of any high profile candidate is whether they have any issues that might surface in the course of a campaign. The "nanny" issue has tripped up candidates for U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Supreme Court, and White House cabinet positions -- so asking about household help should be at the top of the checklist.

If a candidate can get past the personal embarrassment threshold it also pays to ask them about their views on hot button issues like abortion, Social Security, immigration, minimum wage, and Medicare. Once they have been fully vetted and approved, political leaders should play close attention to their campaigns and how they spend their moneys. An open checkbook should never be a blank check to do or say anything.

Whoever was advising Ms. Whitman didn't do a very good job checking facts and dates for some of her campaign commercials. The best one of her many flubs was her on-camera interview yearning for the successes of 30 years ago. It seems that 30 years ago the governor of California was her opponent Jerry Brown.

Not content with having picked one wealthy candidate, Republican leaders drafted former Hewlett Packard Chair Carly Fiorina as their candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer. Fiorina wasn't exactly a shining star in the corporate world, and her departure from corporate America was hastened by a controversial performance as head of HP.

On the East Coast the poster person for bad choices was former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon. McMahon was the Republican's top choice to run for the U.S. Senate based on her pledge to provide an all-expenses-paid battle against Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. That contest didn't turn out much better than the Whitman challenge.

There is nothing wrong with carefully picking a successful businessperson for a statewide race, but a modest investment in polling data can reveal if your candidate has some issues that may crop up during the campaign. Because the wrestling industry isn't universally acclaimed, a good probe into the public's attitude toward a sport that features women bashing other women would have been in order.

While wrestling has a big fan base among men, and may have some women supporters, most of the female population in Connecticut doesn't like the violence and the allegations of excessive steroid use. Women can be the difference in almost any contested race, and McMahon was hurt badly by her lack of female support. In addition, swamping the airwaves with commercials is also a turnoff for the voting population.

The failure of the New York Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino to win over the voters can't be blamed on the party leaders. Paladino was self-funded but was not the party's choice. He forced himself onto the ticket by winning the statewide primary, and he turned out to be a very unwelcome guest. With all his money Paladino turned out to be no bargain.

Despite a boatload of data supporting the idea that rich people can't successfully buy their way into politics, party leaders in the years to come will continue to make the same mistakes. More often than not the Jimmy Stewart type of poor candidate is the best choice but will be overlooked for a wealthy self-funder, but sure loser.