Upstart, Anti-Corruption Campaigns In NY, NH Don't Win, But Do Show Growing Anger Over Political Corruption
from the a-good-start,-but-not-over-yet dept
To the “savvy” political insiders, political corruption is still not seen as an election issue that people care about or vote over. We’ve been discussing a number of attempts to change that — such as with new anti-corruption PACs — and two of the political races we’ve discussed ended yesterday. In both cases, the candidates lost, but they way outperformed their expectations, suggesting that there’s a real possibility of a better reaction in the future.
In NY, the Governor/Lt. Governor primary ticket of Zephyr Teachout/Tim Wu was always a tremendous long shot. Going up against a popular incumbent governor in Andrew Cuomo (who also has tremendous NY name recognition as the son of a former — also tremendously popular — NY governor), the media more or less ignored any possibility of Teachout succeeding. The campaign had little money and no real established political base. It ran almost entirely on the basis of “Hey, Cuomo is kind of corrupt and lies a lot.” Before the election yesterday, an analysis of similar races suggested that incumbent governors in similar primaries often get over 90% of the vote and anything under 70% would be a political disaster for Cuomo, who is hoping to leverage his success in NY into an eventual presidential run. While he did eventually win, it was with about 62% of the vote. Teachout got 34% — again, with no political machine and very little money. Wu ended up with just over 40%, and his opponent Kathy Hochul (Cuomo’s choice) got under 60%.
Obviously, a win would have been a bigger deal, but to come out of nowhere (in just a couple of months), with no huge campaign war chest or connections to traditional politics — against such a well-known governor, basing most of their campaign on corruption issues — this suggests that corruption absolutely can play as an election issue. Teachout and Wu had one paid staffer and four volunteers. Cuomo has a campaign war chest in the many millions. And he still could only barely crack 60% of the vote. That says something. Also interesting is the fact that Teachout and Wu actually won in many rural upstate counties. The campaign had been expecting a weaker showing there (Hochul is from upstate, and Teachout and Wu are based in Manhattan — which they also won). Again, while losing the overall race, the strong showing is a good sign for future campaigns.
Meanwhile, up in New Hampshire, we’d discussed the campaign of Jim Rubens for the Senate, against carpetbagging Scott Brown (who jumped states from Massachusetts after losing his Senate seat there). Early on, Rubens was basically a complete nobody. While he’d been in NH politics in the past, he hadn’t actually occupied a political office since the 1990s. He was basically roadkill for the political machine of Scott Brown. However Larry Lessig’s Mayday PAC noted that Rubens was the only Republican candidate running on an anti-corruption platform to limit the influence of money in politics. Mayday PAC spent heavily on campaign ads for Rubens, and he ended up getting around 24% of the vote, with Brown pulling in less than 50%.
In the end, both of these campaigns obviously lost — but they were interesting experiments with important lessons. Two upstart campaigns from totally different sides of the traditional political spectrum (Zephyr/Wu to the “left” and Rubens to the “right”), both of which made anti-corruption efforts a key plank in their campaigns. Both were considered barely worth mentioning at the beginnings of the campaigns. Both were up against incredibly well-known, well-funded political machines with national name recognition and ambition. Neither campaign had any significant money. And both actually performed decently despite their disadvantages.
In the end, both campaigns definitely did lose, but they showed how there’s clearly a dissatisfaction with the traditional political machine. And if two such tiny, out-of-nowhere campaigns could do that, hopefully it means that future campaigns can do even more.