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Money Doesn’t Buy You Love — or Votes

The Democrats’ favorite excuse in the waning days of the campaign was that foreign money was their undoing. Soon-to-be-ex-Speaker (yeah, wow) Nancy Pelosi said everything was going fine until the Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove or a mystery woman from Hong Kong (oh, wait — that was their side) opened up their wallets. Yes, it was bunk. But little did we know how much bunk it was:

In two-thirds of the House seats that Republicans picked up Tuesday, Democratic candidates had more money behind them, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission. Overall, Democratic candidates in the 63 races that flipped to the GOP had $206.4 million behind them, a tally that includes candidate fundraising and spending by parties and interests. That compares with only $171.7 million for their GOP rivals.

The pattern appears to contradict widespread complaints from Democrats that they were being unfairly overrun by wealthy Republicans, many of whom donated money to conservative groups to spend on political races — unencumbered by the limits and public-disclosure requirements that constrain most political fundraising. The data show that even in many races in which Republicans had more outside help, they still had fewer resources than their Democratic opponents.

So it was in Senate races as well. Meg Whitman’s personal fortune was of no use. Neither did it help Linda McMahon. Sharron Angle outraised Harry Reid and still lost.

It seems that, rather than money, a candidate’s voting record, the economy, and the relative levels of enthusiasm of the parties’ supporters is what mattered. (“Republicans were able to win despite being badly outspent in Democratic-leaning districts. Outside Philadelphia, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D), the Democratic Party and groups backing them had about three times as much as conservatives and the campaign of former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.”) Money is a convenient excuse, of course. But like blaming the voters’ “misperceptions,” it simply wasn’t the cause of the Democrats’ defeat. The voters knew exactly what they were doing, and no amount of money was going to convince them otherwise. And as for the self-financers, unless you are a solid candidate (Ron Johnson, for example), it’s better not to fritter away the family fortune.


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