Tuesday was a pretty good day for self-funded political candidates, as two out of three big-spending millionaires won primaries in Connecticut, and a battle of deep-pocketed Democrats in Minnesota ended with department-store heir Mark Dayton declaring victory. But in a sign that cash can't guarantee victory, several millionaires wound up with lighter wallets and no nomination yesterday, and a Tea Party insurgent in Colorado rode small donations to victory over a better-funded establishment candidate.
The days' big winner was Connecticut senatorial hopeful and former wrestling exec Linda McMahon, who burned through $22 million on her way to an easy Republican primary victory – or nearly $400 for every vote -- and has vowed to spend another $30 million to beat Democrat Richard Blumenthal in November. Also in Connecticut, former ambassador Thomas Foley won a narrow victory in the GOP gubernatorial primary after loaning his own campaign $3 million.
Greenwich cable entrepreneur Ned Lamont, however, dropped $9 million in a losing bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. Connecticut electoral laws aided his opponent, Daniel Malloy, allowing him to draw on state funds to close the funding gap with Lamont; the same laws aided Fedele, who came within five points of Tom Foley in the Republican contest. Ned Lamont has now spent $26 million of his personal fortune running for public office without securing one, having used $17 million on an unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, the self-funder who spent the least triumphed. Mark Dayton, Hudson department-store heir and former Senator, spent $3 million on a largely self-financed campaign to win the Democratic primary for governor. But Dayton won by only a point over the underfunded Margaret Kelliher, and lawyer Matt Entenza spent $4.5 million of his own money to come in a distant third.
A candidate who relied on small donations actually beat a better-funded candidate in Colorado. Tea Party favorite Ken Buck defeated Jane Norton in the Colorado senate primary though Norton had the backing of the GOP party establishment and the U.S Chamber of Commerce.
The Minnesota and Connecticut millionaires are among dozens of self-financed candidates across the country trying to take advantage of a public mood that could favor political outsiders this November. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 35 Republicans and seven Democrats have each contributed at least $500,000 to their campaigns for U.S. House and Senate races. The large number of Republican self-financed candidates reflects a concerted effort on the part of GOP leaders to recruit wealthy candidates after being outspent by Democrats in recent election cycles.
Campaign observers say the fate of this year's unusual crop of self-funders has the potential to shape political campaigns and the recruitment of candidates for years to come.
"There is a very clear deterrent effect with wealthy self-financers -- they tend to push a lot of other types of candidates out of the field," said Jennifer Steen, a political science professor at Arizona State University and former campaign manager who has studied the impact of self-funded campaigns.