The Impact of the 2010 Elections on the Impending Redistricting Process

November 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Much will soon be written about the effect of yesterday’s elections on the 2010 redistricting process. Here are just a few random tidbits (of relevance both to law and politics) gleaned from the results.

1. Republicans have more state legislative seats than at any point since 1928.

2. The Alabama House and Senate, Indiana House, Iowa House, Maine House and Senate, Michigan House, Minnesota House and Senate, Montana House, New Hampshire House and Senate, North Carolina House and Senate, Ohio House, the Pennsylvania House, and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate all have flipped from Democrat to Republican. See results and a map from the National Conference of State legislatures.

3. Although a few House races remain too close to call, it appears that since 2002 about 105 congressional seats (24% of total) have had a Republican and a Democrat representative at some point in the redistricting cycle. I don’t know how this compares to previous cycles, but the number of “switches” over the course of the decade gives a sense as to how successful the 2002 gerrymanders were. As far as I can tell, one cannot say that incumbents in states with bipartisan or incumbent-protecting gerrymanders were safer than those in partisan gerrymandered states. I think this is true even accounting for the fact that “in-party” members might have been placed a greater risk than “out party” members in partisan gerrymandered states. In other words, although in some states partisans spread their supporters to thinly and therefore lost seats as a result, that was not uniformly true (compare Pennsylvania with Florida). Nor was it consistently the case that incumbent-protecting gerrymanders were equally successful (compare California with New York).

4. My best guess, however, from the lessons learned this redistricting cycle is that we should expect even greater incumbent protection in the upcoming redistricting as Republicans cement their gains, particularly in the Midwest where they will control the process, rather than seek out new opportunities. (As many have written, bipartisan gerrymanders are sometimes the most rational and successful form of partisan gerrymandering.) New opportunities will come their way, in any event, when the census reveals reapportionment totals that transfer seats from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and Southwest. Texas, for example, may gain four new congressional seats. (Note, however, Florida passed a redistricting initiative that, by its terms, attempts to constrain the use of partisanship or incumbency in the linedrawing process.)

5. Speaking of Texas, it is interesting to note that the Latino-majority district (Texas 23) that was redrawn following the Supreme Court’s decision in LULAC v Perry has now switched back into Republican hands. I will be interested to see whether exit polls reveal that Latinos split their vote between Ciro Rodriguez (the incumbent) and Quico Canseco. Also, Solomon Ortiz appears to be losing the 27th Texas congressional district, of which Latinos comprise over 70% of the district’s population.

6. William Jefferson’s old district in New Orleans has returned to the Democrats, with Joseph Cao losing to Cedric Richmond. After the 2000 Census, this was a 64% African American population district (with 638,000 people in it). According to recent estimates from the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, only 431,000 people remain in the district (post-Katrina) and it is down to 57.6% African American. Without getting too far into the legal issues, Louisiana will prove to be one of the more interesting states when it comes to enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in the upcoming redistricting.

There is a lot more to say about the effect of these elections on redistricting — for example, how the governors’ races in certain states have now made partisan gerrymanders or impasses more likely. For now, the next relevant shoe to drop will be the apportionment estimates the census will deliver in about two months.

UPDATE: In the few minutes since I posted this, I have noticed Justin Levitt’s very useful post, which breaks down the data even further.


Political Polarization and the Nationalization of Congressional Elections

November 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Cross-posted from Election Law Blog

As demonstrated again in the 2010 elections, the single most significant fact about American politics over the last generation is the emergence of hyperpolarized political parties. The parties are both internally more unified than in prior decades and more sharply differentiated from each other. This is not a transient fact. This polarization has began roughly in the 1980s and has been increasing constantly ever since. Indeed, the 2010 election cycle saw an even further purification of the parties, as a number of more centrist or moderate figures were eliminated during the primary process. As I have written about, this hyperpolarization will have numerous consequences for both elections and governance, one of which was played out yesterday: congressional elections are likely to be more nationalized. They will be much more referenda on the political parties and their leaders than individualized judgments about particular House and Senate candidates. Candidates will rise and fall with the fate of their political parties more than in the past. And the fate of the parties will be heavily determined by public judgments about the party’s leaders, particularly, for the party in power, the President. That is the best explanation, I believe, of why we have now experienced three cycles in a row of “wave” elections, with yesterday’s being the most dramatic example.

Here’s the data to support the view that “wave elections” are becoming more common. From 1976-2004, there was only one year in which the shift (or “swing,” in the more technical jargon) in the aggregate, nationwide vote for the parties from one election cycle to the next exceeded 5% (for data, I am relying on this paper by Nagler and Issacharoff). That was in 1994, when the Republicans took over the House. On average during this period, the swing between the parties was 2.18% (if we include the dramatic 1994 election) and 1.89% (if we exclude 1994). But in 2006, the swing from 2004 was 7%, in favor of the Democrats. That is because the 2006 elections were a national referendum, in effect, on the Bush presidency at a moment at which that presidency had become widely unpopular, as demonstrated in Gary Jacobson’s analysis of those elections. Initial analysis from Nate Silver of yesterday’s results indicate that there was a swing of 6.7% for the Republicans from the prior election. The 2010 election, again, was a nationalized referenda, this time on the first two years of the Obama administration. Though individual factors influenced many races, the general pattern was again one in which candidates rose and fell with their party moreso than in earlier decades. From 1964-2004, there were only two elections with a swing of 6% or more, 1966 and 1994. We have now had at least two elections involving this kind of swing in the last four years.

Why are “wave elections” becoming so much more common? My hypothesis is that it’s because of the intense polarization of the parties that has emerged. This polarization does not guarantee that we will see much more dramatic swings for and against the parties; voters might have stable preferences between the parties over long periods of time, even if the parties are sharply polarized. But this polarization makes wave elections more likely. When the party labels represent clearly identifiable brands that are sharply distinct from each other, voters are more able, and more likely, to link the fates of individual candidates to each other through the party label. Hence, polarization, nationalization of elections, and waves of shift in support between the parties all go hand in hand.

The rise of more nationalized elections, through polarization of the parties, has implications for many aspects of elections and governance. Briefly, here’s one — I get asked frequently why, if congressional districts are so gerrymandered, has there been so much turnover in the House in 2006, 2008, and now, 2010? Didn’t the gerrymandering that followed the 2000 Census make congressional districts much safer and hence less competitive? The answer is yes: congressional districts were safer, in that it took a much larger swing of support from one party to the other to throw out those elected in the districts designed for this decade. But, the nationalization of elections has made these much larger waves possible and more likely. Thus, congressional districts were more insulated, but the tidal waves of swings for and against the parties have been high enough — much higher than in the past — to overcome this insulation, when voters turn on one party or the other. That’s a brief answer, and I’ll elaborate in another post if that’s not clear enough. But for now, the larger point is that the intense polarization of the parties leads to greater nationalization of congressional elections. That greater nationalization enables “wave elections” of the sort we are now experiencing.


Florida Elections Commission finds probable cause Broward’s Ritter violated elections laws

November 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

UPDATED with Ritter response
Broward activist and lawyer Brenda Chalifour called from Tallahassee this morning to report that the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that a violation occurred on 28 of 29 counts in an election law case against Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter.

The FEC won’t comment on it just yet. Ritter did not attend the hearing. Her attorney, Mark Herron, said the case moves next to an administrative hearing, where a judge would have to find that the violations were willful in order to assess fines.

Ritter issued a response, which I’ll post in full on the jump.

Broward Politics

Democrats want leadership elections delayed

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(CNN) - Two House Democrats are circulating a letter asking Democratic leaders to push their party’s leadership elections for the next Congress until December.

Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D- Ohio) and Peter Defazio (D-Oregon) say in the letter that the “historic results” of the Democrat’s 60-seat loss in the House is one reason to push back leadership selection.

The letter comes as the soon-to-be former House Democratic majority leaders are embroiled in a controversy over who will lead the Democrats when the House changes to Republican hands in January.

Defazio is a known critic of the Democratic leadership and has vocalized his opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) remaining in a leadership role. Kaptur has occasionally broken with leadership, but her spokesman told CNN that Kaptur’s request to delay the elections is not about Pelosi, but about giving Democratic members some time to return to Washington and discuss future moves for all leadership slots before any decisions are made.

Read the full letter:

Dear Democratic Leadership:

Our Caucus should come together next week and listen to the members who lost, the members who won narrowly close elections, and the remaining members of the caucus. We should hear their stories about what worked and what was not successful because if we do not to learn from our losses we will remain in the minority until we do learn.

Following the loss of our majority, we should fully understand the causes of our historic losses before we begin the process of rebuilding. We believe leadership elections should take place in December after our Caucus has had the opportunity to hear from each other and our concerns.

We cannot ignore the historical results of these elections. At a minimum, we lost 60 seats, with a few races still to call. According to the exit polls, we lost a majority of both male and female voters, reversing the last four years of Democratic gains. Two years ago, President Obama won a majority of the female vote by 13 points. We also lost a majority of voters over 30 years of age, including an 18 point margin for seniors. We lost the independent vote by 16 points, compared to President Obama’s 8 point margin. Finally we lost a majority of voters earning more than $ 50,000 a year.

Considering these disturbing exit polls, we believe we should not rush to elect a leadership slate next week, but rather spend more time to understand these historic losses. Before we chart a new path forward, we need to understand where we erred to avoid repeating past mistakes.

There is no pressing need to elect our leadership so soon after the election. We should take the Thanksgiving break to reflect on the Caucus discussions and talk with our constituents. We can then return in December to elect our leadership team. Heading into a Presidential election cycle, we believe our Caucus would benefit from a more thoughtful discussion, prior to leadership elections.

We are not endorsing or opposing any leadership candidate with this letter, but we are seeking more time for a more thoughtful discussion with everyone in the same room. America expects us to take this moment and draw the best from it in her interest. Our fates our tied together. With the economy predominant in all polls, the public knows we can do so much better for our nation. We should be given more than two weeks to understand what happened and select our leadership who will be charged with restoring our majority.

-CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

CNN Political Ticker

Defense Policy and the Elections of 1984, 2010 and 2012

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 


The comparison between the elections of 1982 and 2010 makes for an interesting contrast. In 1982 Ronald Reagan’s GOP lost 26 seats in the House but kept control of the Senate. The Republicans lost at a time of high unemployment and an inflation rate that seemed out of control. By 1984 the economy was looking better the jobless rate was falling and inflation was disappearing.

In 2010 as we know the Democrats lost more than 61 seats and kept control of the Senate. The jobless rate is now higher than at any time since the great depression and while inflation seems to be under control there are disturbing signs that it may come roaring back. The most obvious ones are the raising prices for gold, food and energy that show that inflation may be on its way up to levels not seen since the early 1980s. If President Obama wants to win a second term he is going to need an economy that is growing, creating jobs and where people are not afraid that inflation is going to eat their saving and ravage their paychecks.

There is however another factor that helped Reagan to overcome the setback that he and his party suffered in 1982. Throughout his presidency no one, friend or foe had any doubt that he would stand up to America’s enemies and, within reason, stand by its friends. On the international stage Reagan, like FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford never apologized for their country and while they may have pursued different strategies in the Cold War they never for a single moment gave the impression that they were ready to lose it to the USSR. LBJ and Carter showed weakness and America’s foes reacted accordingly.

While Americans punished the GOP for the economy in 1982, they did not lose their faith in Ronald Reagan. He stood up for America and in 1983 he was able to overcome a strong ‘peace’ movement in the US and Europe and proceed with the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe and launched the Missile Defense program know derisively as “Star Wars.” He also overthrew a nasty little communist dictatorship on the Caribbean Island of Grenada. Along with his sustained military build up, these were the decisive moves that allowed him to successfully confront Gorbachev during the second half of his Presidency.

Will President Obama be able to achieve anything similar to Reagan’s 1983 Cold War victories in 2011 ? The situation is not promising, first of all the President has never seriously spoken of victory, not in Iraq and not even in Afghanistan which he once called for a policy that would concentrate on “finishing the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Indeed in 2011 he plans to completely pull out of Iraq, following the timetable laid out by George W. Bush, but he also plans to begin pulling out of Afghanistan. As of November 2010, it is hard to see how he can paint either of these moves as a victory.

One problem is that his administration and the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill is full of people who in 1983 fought Ronald Reagan tooth and nail over the European missile deployment and over Missile Defense. It is legitimate to ask if these men and women have the kind of mindset needed to push through any policy that could be described as an American victory? With the honorable exception of Defense Secretary Robert Gates who in 1983 was courageously arguing against the liberal consensus at the CIA, few members of the administration have a record of standing against the nation’s enemy or against the left wing establishment consensus.

Reagan’s supporters wanted to “Win One for the Gipper!” Somehow “Compromise One for The One!” lacks the same resonance.

So what kind of foreign and defense policy successes could President Obama hope for that would help him win in 2012 ? Arab Israeli peace treaties didn’t help Carter or Clinton. Arms Control agreements helped Nixon a bit in 1972, but since then they have either been a negative factor or a neutral one. The SALT 2 agreement that Carter signed with Brezhnev helped confirm his image as a weakling and the Reagan Gorbachev agreements on Nuclear arms reductions did little, if anything to help George H. W. Bush against Michael Dukakis. The New Start Treaty that Obama has signed with Russia has achieved the remarkable feat of being seen as both anachronistic and as a threat to America’s ability to defend itself.

So what else could President Obama do that would be enough of a victory over America’s enemies to get him re-elected? Killing or capturing Osama Bin Laden might do the trick, especially if they actually captured him. Some people, including Angelo Codevilla have made a strong, though not an airtight, case that Bin Laden died years ago, so the administration would have to prove that they had actually killed him. Also if he is in the northwest Pakistani province of Chitral, as one recent report has it, killing him there would upset the men who rule in Islamabad no end, and this would have consequences for our operations in Afghanistan.

Of course one option that the President is not at all likely to take, is to go all out against Iran. After all the Islamic regime has been at war with the US since 1979, hostage taking, murders, terrorism and nukes are the very essence of their foreign policy. If Obama wanted to he could rally America around a strong and comprehensive bombing campaign that would not only destroy every aspect of their nuclear weapons development program, but would also go after their air and sea power, the revolutionary guard, the prisons in which the dissidents are kept and key economic targets such as the Kharg Island oil terminal.

During such an attack, perhaps the Persian people would rally round the regime, but it is at least as likely that they would either passively complain about the way the government brought this on to them, or in the best case, there would be a coup or a revolution. In any case the government in Tehran would be humiliated and would be seriously weakened.

There may be other opportunities for the President to stand up to America’s foes. The constant tension on the Korean Peninsula could erupt and if he handled a crisis there successfully it would enhance his standing. While there are other places such as Yemen and Somalia where he could use force against Al Qaeda it is hard to see that the kinds of small scale operations that are now feasible would have the kind of political impact that Reagan saw after he overthrew Fidel Castro’s allies on Grenada.

As long as President Obama sticks to his belief that the US must ‘engage’ its foes and to his preference for carrots without sticks, he will continue to be seen as weak. If he wants to get re-elected the way Reagan did in 1984, he is going to have to begin treating our enemies like enemies.

Big Peace

Youth Voters in the 2010 Elections

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Younger Voters Were Racially Diverse, Voted Democratic, and Approved of President Obama
Mostly a Subset of the 2008 Electorate, they Held Mixed Views of What to Do About the Economy
New Exit Poll Analysis Released today by the Generational Alliance and CIRCLE

Tisch College of Citizenship, Tufts University — Today, CIRCLE and the Generational Alliance (GA) release new analysis of exit poll data.  The complete research findings, compiled from the National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research, can be found in a new CIRCLE fact sheet, Young Voters in the 2010 Election (PDF).

An estimated 20.9 percent of all eligible young people ages 18-29 voted in the 2010 midterms. Younger voters chose Democratic House candidates over Republican House candidates by a margin of 57%-40%. By a 60%-40% margin, younger voters approved of Barack Obama’s handling of his job as president. By a 55%-41% margin, they said that his policies will help the country in the long run. In contrast, a 54%-45% majority of all voters disapproved of the president and a 52%-44% majority of all voters said his policies will hurt the country.

“Since 2004, young voters have been one of the strongest Democratic constituencies,” said CIRCLE director Peter Levine. “Democrats need to engage them better than they did in 2010, and Republicans need to make inroads in a generation that continues to prefer Democrats.”

Most (84%) of young adults who voted in 2010 had also voted in 2008. The 2010 young electorate was mostly a subset of the 2008 electorate.

In U.S. elections, young adults who have never attended college (about half of the young population) are consistently much less likely to vote than their counterparts who have some college experience. In the 2010 midterms, it appears that the turnout rate of younger voters with college experience was at least twice as high.

In 2008, the strong turnout was driven by youth of color. Again in 2010, younger voters were more racially and ethnically diverse than the electorate as a whole. Among younger voters, 66% were White, 14% Black, 15% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 2% “all others” (this last category includes Native Americans and those who choose to classify themselves in any of the other categories). In contrast, among voters 30 and older, 80% were white, 10% Black, 7% Hispanic, 1% Asian, and 2% “all other.” Seven percent of younger voters said they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual, compared to 4% of all voters.

Younger Blacks represented 14% of all younger voters, about the same as their proportion of the whole 18-29 population (14.4%). In 2008, they had represented 18% of younger voters and had the highest turnout rate of any racial/ethnic group of young Americans. This year, it appears that their turnout was about on par with younger voters as a whole.

Meanwhile, younger Hispanics represented 15% of younger voters, again close to the same as their proportion of the 18-29 population as a whole (14.2%). In past elections, the turnout of young Latinos had lagged behind other racial/ethnic groups, but the exit polls suggest that they may have narrowed or even erased the gap in 2010.

Youth of color and low-income youth are voting while dealing with institutional barriers such as disenfranchisement because of felony convictions at much higher rates. Other obstacles were evident at the polls, according to reports from members of the Generational Alliance this past November 3rd.

Young voters in the 2010 election varied greatly in their party and ideological identification.  Among young Black and Hispanic voters, nearly three in ten self-identified as liberal democrats compared to 20% of their white counterparts.  White youth, on the other hand, were most likely to self-identify as Independents/Something Else (31%) or Conservative Republicans (27%).

sample graph

For much more information:

CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) conducts and promotes research on the civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25. A part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, CIRCLE has received funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, Carnegie Corporation of New York and several other foundations.

The Generational Alliance is a collaboration of 15 national youth organizations building collective power for underrepresented & low-income communities. We’re working together to make sure our communities are voting and engaged on the issues that are impacting our everyday lives before and after the election.


The Economy and Elections: Where’s the “Tension”?

November 9, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

A week ago, I did a long interview on the subject of the economy and elections, which was to be condensed into a podcast for public radio. After it never appeared, I inquired as to its fortune and got this response:

Unfortunately, we decided not to cover the economics of elections. We were having trouble finding the tension in the piece, because everyone we talked to agreed with you - economics was going to matter in 2010. We were finding it difficult to build 20-25 minutes around the topic.

You probably can’t find a better encapsulation of why political science research doesn’t make the news. No drama!

The Monkey Cage

Elections Can’t Cure America’s ‘Disease’: The Beijing Times, People’s Republic of China

November 7, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

So what’s the view of Beijing to the recent 2010 midterms? Not only do the U.S. elections appear unlikely to encourage China to set aside dictatorship for pluralism, according to this article by Mao Yingying for China’s state-run Beijing Times, America itself would be better off reconsidering how its ’so-called democracy’ should run.

For the Beijing Times, Mao Yingying writes in part:

Americans appear disappointed with more than Obama, for despite the bad report card for Obama and the Democratic Party and Republican success at harnessing the “anger vote,” Republicans don’t seem to know or want to know how to resolve America’s great problems, like how to reduce the ever-increasing unemployment rate. In the words of a certain Republican leader [Mitch McConnell], the most important task for his party in the next two years is to “ensure Mr. Obama is a one-term president.”

Defeating Obama and the Democratic Party may be a victory for Republicans, but one party’s victory over another has precious little meaning to ordinary American people. Long and intense disputes over trivial matters between the two parties will deliver none of the things that people want. On the contrary, when the change in power is reduced to two election machines attacking one another, so-called democracy becomes a farce - and one that demands the spending of a lot of dollars.

American scholars have pointed out that “replacing a few chess pieces on the board” (after the midterm elections) will bring very little change to the United States. In fact, “replacing the most important piece on the board” (presidential election) is unlikely to bring much change, either. Because the rules of the game haven’t changed, i.e.: “whoever Wall Street money flows toward, wins” and “behind the verbal wars are a mountain of advertising and packaging fees.” Lying to the people and writing “blank checks,” dumping dirty water over opponents, and finding “scapegoats” and “punching bags” in the international community haven’t changed either. Under such rules, the elections were quite lively, but the “show,” rather than reflecting reality, shows that the American disease continues to spread.

The reality is that amidst an economic and financial crisis, the U.S. doesn’t have a superior or credible political system for improving the economy or people’s livelihoods. Expecting America’s self-styled democracy to reform itself to overcome its economic difficulties can only be called a fantasy.

READ ON AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

The Moderate Voice

Some More “Myths” of the Midterm Elections

November 6, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Continuing my “bestselling” commentary on selections from the “hundreds if not thousands of analyses, ‘Wednesday morning quarter backings’ and prognostications” inspired by Tuesday’s elections, here’s one that I found quite interesting.

It is an opinion piece by Michael Cooper in the New York Times this morning and it discusses how every election—including or especially this one—gives rise to its own “mythology.”

And like all mythology, the narrative that is being woven around the midterm elections by Bulfinches from both parties is a blend of history, facts and, yes, myths.

Cooper provides his own “one more spin on the potter’s wheel” before such mythology “hardens into accepted fact.”

Here are some of the topics. Read the original article and judge for yourself:

Return to the Republican Fold

There is no denying the powerful wave that swept Republicans back into power in the House, won them seats in the Senate and helped them rout Democrats in statehouses around the country. But even as they were electing Republicans in huge numbers, a majority of voters said they had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party…

The Sweeping Mandate

To hear many Republicans tell it, the huge surge that won them control of the House was a clear referendum: an anti-Obama, anti-health care law, anti-government spending mandate.

Often such sweeping mandates do not turn out to be so sweeping…

The Lost Youth Vote

This year, voters under 30 were the only age group in which a majority voted for the Democrats, but relatively few of them bothered to show up on Tuesday.

But that does not mean young voters are forever lost…

A Disaster for the President

Mr. Obama himself called the big Republican gains a “shellacking.” The Republican gain of at least 60 seats in the House was the biggest for any party since President Harry S, Truman was in office. And a majority of those who voted Tuesday said that they disapproved of the way Mr. Obama was handling the job, and that his policies would hurt the country in the long run.

Still, there were a few faint silver linings for Mr. Obama, as the 2012 presidential election begins…

Perhaps in an introspective vein, Cooper concludes that there is never a shortage of arguments to support any doctrine one wants to believe in for whatever reasons: “This law is well known, if not by name, in political spin rooms and on talk shows, and is likely to continue to get quite a workout. Of course, a strong argument could also be made that nothing like that will happen at all.”

Before we jump in and call Mr. Cooper a flaming Liberal, I would urge the reading of some of his other articles.

Image courtesy

The Moderate Voice

Money Can’t Buy Elections After All

November 6, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

One of the lessons from Tuesday’s elections is the nearly complete failure of self-funded candidates to use their money to get themselves elected:

Wealthy future candidates, take note: It turns out that most of the time, money really can’t buy you political happiness.

Tuesday’s midterms featured an unusually large crop of moguls who sought to ease their way into power by pouring millions of their own dollars into their campaigns. In most cases, they failed spectacularly.

The most obvious - and jaw-dropping - example came in the California gubernatorial race, where Republican Meg Whitman spent $ 175 million of her eBay fortune to lose badly to former Democratic governor Jerry Brown. That works out to about $ 57 for each of the roughly 3 million votes she won.

As GOP consultant Alex Castellanos quipped on CNN: “I could have lost that race for only $ 80 million.”

Although Whitman shattered all previous records, she was hardly alone. Other rich losers this year included former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who gave or loaned her Connecticut Senate campaign $ 47 million; former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, who tapped into personal accounts for $ 5.5 million; and GOP businessman John Raese, who used $ 4.7 million of his own money in losing the Senate race in West Virginia.

These are not isolated cases. The Center for Responsive Politics calculates tha
out of 58 candidates who used $ 500,000 or more of their money on federal races in 2010, fewer than one in five won. Eight of the top 10 self-funders this cycle lost, with only GOP Senate challenger Ron Johnson of Wisconsin ($ 8.2 million) and House candidate Scott Rigell of Virginia ($ 2.4 million) emerging victorious.

The results continue a long tradition of ambitious but failed bids for political office by self-financing tycoons from Ross Perot to Steve Forbes, who frequently have difficulty translating their financial advantages into votes. Since 1990, only five of the top 20 self-financed candidates have won, according to the center’s data.

“Self-financing candidates generally do poorly, and Election 2010 is certainly no exception,” center spokesman David Levinthal said.

In fact, this year, of the top ten self-financed candidates running in Federal elections, only two ended up winning their races:

This list, of course, doesn’t include Meg Whitman’s failed bid for Governor of California, which cost her $ 175 million dollars, or nearly three times as much as Ross Perot spent in 1992 in his Presidential run. There are other examples of the truism that money doesn’t buy elections sprinkled throughout American history, including John Connolly, who raised and spent more money than any other candidate running for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980 and won only a single delegate, and Rudy Giuliani, who raised and spent $ 59 million in the 2008 GOP primaries but won only a single delegate before dropping out before Super Tuesday.

The lesson, as Jonathan Capehart notes, is really quite simple:

Money only buys candidates the ability to get their message out. If that message neither resonates with nor is to the liking of voters, they will not vote for you. People want their voices heard. No amount of money will muffle them.

That’s worth remembering every time you hear someone talk about restricting political donations.

Outside the Beltway

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