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The NRSC Has a Plan: Find Candidates Who Are Filthy Rich

In the past two cycles, Democrats raised more grass roots money from small donors in Senate races than Republicans did. The NRSC has taken note of this and thinks it has the answer: Nominate candidates who are so rich that they can pay $20- or $50- or $100-million for their campaigns out of their own pockets. That would change the balance of ads and also save the NRSC a ton of money that could be spent helping candidates who are not rich. Sounds like a plan.

So far the NRSC is talking to at least 10 very wealthy people who are potentially interested in running for the Senate in half a dozen states. These include Tim Sheehy in Montana, who founded an aerospace company, Eric Hovde, a real estate executive in Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV), a coal magnate and the richest man in West Virginia, David McCormick, a hedge fund manager in Connecticut, and Karrin Taylor Robson, a land-use attorney in Arizona. Many Republicans think this approach is a fine idea. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said: "In politics, as in life, money doesn't buy happiness, but poverty doesn't buy a damn thing."

However, getting rich businessmen and businesswomen to run also has enormous downsides that Republicans are forgetting. Most of these people have never been in politics, have never run for office, and know next to nothing about the process or what works. That is completely different for Senate candidates who are current or former governors, U.S. representatives, or state senators. Also, business owners and executives are used to giving orders and expect everyone to obey immediately. They are not used to getting blowback from opponents and are certainly not used to having oppo teams scour their past for one unfortunate remark or photo that is suddenly front and center. They are also not used to dealing with hostile reporters who are trying to trip them up. And they are certainly unprepared (in some cases) for sustained direct attacks from Donald Trump because they refuse to state point blank that he won the 2020 election and it was stolen from him.

As Republicans really ought to know, but seem to have forgotten, a million negative ads are worthless if you have a "candidate quality" problem. They really ought to be searching out quality candidates, but that doesn't seem to be the NRSC's focus. The idea that if someone is rich enough, they can just bulldoze their way to a primary win and then buy the general election really isn't often true. There are plenty of rich senators, but rich senators who came out of nowhere and made it on their own using money are rare. Yes, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) did it, but he was Trumpy as hell and had Trump's full backing. We think that Trump's backing is what did it, not Vance's money. It works sometimes, but not always. Here is a list of the 10 richest senators, their net worth as of 2019, and their background:

Senator Net worth Background
Rick Scott (R-FL) $260 million Governor of Florida
Mark Warner (D-VA) $215 million Governor of Virginia
Mitt Romney (R-UT) $170 million Governor of Massachusetts
Mike Braun (R-IN $140 million Indiana state representative
John Hoeven (R-ND) $95 million Governor of North Dakota
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) $90 million Mayor of San Francisco
Ron Johnson (R-WI) $75 million CEO of paper company, never held public office before Senate run
Jim Risch (R-ID) $40 million Governor of Idaho, before that Lt. Governor, and state senator
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) $35 million County executive of Jefferson County, KY
Steve Daines (R-MT) $33 million U.S. Representative

As you can see from the table, all but one of the ten richest senators (Johnson) had served in elected office before running for the Senate. They knew how to organize a campaign, raise money, hire political aides, read polls, and talk to voters. Five of the above were governors before becoming senators, so they knew how run a statewide campaign and were well known to the voters on the day they announced. They had all been heavily vetted by the voters before even starting a Senate campaign.

Can rich guys buy a Senate seat? Johnson did, but it is getting harder. You have to be filthy rich. Merely very rich isn't enough anymore. Here are the most expensive Senate races in 2022.

Most expensive Senate races of 2022; Georgia is
number one at $260 million, New Hampshire is number ten at $50 million, and the rest are in between those poles

Note that the numbers above are the total spending so to get an idea of what a candidate has to spend, divide the totals in half. But even for a tiny state like New Hampshire, if you can't pony up $25 million, you're not going to be able to self-fund the race. For someone with assets (typically stock) worth $100 million, there will be capital gains tax (possibly federal and state) in order to get $25 million in cash. That means the candidate would have to sell at least $30 million in stock to generate $25 million in campaign funds. In practice, this means that someone worth only $100 million can't really self-fund a Senate race. Realistically, in a medium-sized state like Ohio or Wisconsin, you need assets of $500 million or be willing to sink a large fraction of your assets into the race with no guarantee that you will win. The pool of people with political ambition and that kind of money is small. And people that rich are likely to be way out of touch with the voters and have a crudité problem, that is, a candidate quality problem.

So yes, being rich is better than being poor if you're running for office, but if the NRSC thinks that just finding 10 random billionaires will do the job, it is likely to have an unpleasant surprise on Nov. 6, 2024. (V)

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