Thursday, February 7, 2008

Money and Good Looks Don't Win the White House

It is offered as a truism that money buys office in America. Money is the determining factor in who gets elected, we are told.

Consider the counterfactuals that we have seen thus far in the primaries, especially on the Republican side. Mitt Romney had far more money than any of the other candidates. Yet he was trounced on Super Tuesday. Who trounced him? It was John McCain who at one point had almost no money left, and yet came back to bury Romney on February 5. Mike Huckabee is fond of saying that, having spent less than 10% of what Romney has spent, he has done comparably well at winning delegates. No one can dispute that money is handy, but at least in presidential campaigns it has to be matched by a marketable candidate, i.e. one who has the requisite substance and skill.

Speaking of the role of money, it is worth noting that the top Republican contenders have almost no money left. As of the end of the 2007 fourth quarter, CNN reports that Romney had just $2.5 million and McCain had almost $3 million on hand. (Ron Paul has almost $8 million, but his money is not matched by a credible candidacy so it is useless to him.) The Democrats, by striking contrast, are bathing in cash. CNN tells us that at the end of the fourth quarter of '07 Hillary had $38 million in the bank and Obama had $18.5 million. That could have consequences. In a curious development, it is reported that the Clintons recently infused $5 million of their personal fortune into their campaign. This apparent contradiction between bank statement and behavior is explained by a large sum of those reserves that is designated for the election campaign itself. But again, that points to a Republican funding problem in the fall.

Let me add this little addendum. People also flippantly remark that television favors the telegenic candidates. In the video age, everything has become style over substance, image over reality. Voters are presumably mesmerized by handsome features and charming ways. Ugly old Lincoln could never get elected in our post-Gutenberg world.

And yet, John Edwards, perhaps the most handsome man ever to run for the presidency, came a distant third among the Democrats and did not even make it to Super Tuesday. This poor showing was despite his indisputable substance and skill and $44 million. On the Republican side, the unsettlingly handsome Mitt Romney is running a seemingly hopeless second, having fallen from what was once a confident front-runner position before the Iowa caucuses.

Take that, you cynics!

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