Debt May Discourage Third Party Challengers

The Winchester Star is reporting (requires registration)that the gubernatorial campaign of Sen. Russ Potts owes $339,125.31. Cash on hand is only $86,971.69.

I was a harsh critic of the Potts campaign, but I take no joy in his indebtedness. I would rather see more third party candidates than less and the financial problems Potts faces have to be discouraging to future third party challengers. It is doubly discouraging when we remember how much support Potts got from Virginia editorial pages and so-called opinion leaders. Few third party candidates can expect that kind of fawning attention.

Sen. Potts only got 2% of the vote despite spending a lot of money (not a lot in comparision to the major party candidates, but a lot nonetheless). I suspect he would have gotten the same number of votes, if not more, if he had run a savvy internet/blog intensive campaign instead of the derivative kind he was suckered into buying.

Maybe that’s the lesson. If you’re going to run a third party campaign, forget the high-priced consultants and don’t count on expensive, “quirky” ads to help you catch fire with the voters. It’s almost counterintuitive, but we could have more and better third party candidates if they run shoestring campaigns instead of becoming slaves to fundraising.

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18 responses to “Debt May Discourage Third Party Challengers”

  1. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    While I would never wish adversity on someone, Sen. Potts has only himself to blame for his indebtedness. Perhaps basing a campaign on personal bitterness and angst caused him to overlook the basic need to run a financially sound campaign. His indebtedness here also belies his actions as state Senator supporting massive spending increases in 2004. Both are good reasons in hindsight to be happy he only got 2% of the vote.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    I think it would be interesting if all candidates were only allowed to spend, say $50,000 – $100,000 (whatever amount is fair) on campaigns. No other private funding either. You get a set amount to run adds and travel around stumping. Maybe 3 or 4 big debates paid for by the state and all candidates are invited to attend. It could be televised and have open question time. Any remaining questions could be sent to the candidate and they could blog away! Then they would all be equal and they wouldn’t have the time or money to badmouth the others.

  3. The problem with that is what to do about independent groups — like Are you going to limit their free speech by preventing them from running ads about the candidate they favor?

    If candidates were limited in spending, independent org’s would pop up as a way to funnel money towards campaigns.

    But it would be awesome if there were some kind of even playing field.

  4. The Green Party supports public funding for campaigns…

    By the way, question for State:
    Do you have to have a bank account in order to run for office?

    The candidate application form suggests this is the case.

  5. I agree with Will. Many third party candidates are likely to be discouraged from trying to do what Potts attempted.

    However, not all hope is lost. Any individual willing to spend his or her own money could very well be more successful. Potts proved that 3rd party fundraising is near impossible. You can blame his platform, the fact that it’s an off year election, whatever. The next third party candidate will face the same challenges.

    A person willing to put up $8-$10 million of their own money may have a chance. I mean, it takes money to make money, or raise money in this case.

  6. Avatar

    If independent candidates actually run on the ticket of a real party (Libertarian, Green, Reform, etc.), and focus on building that party’s infrastructure through the campaign, the indebtedness will be less of an issue. It seems that the problem is that indy folks like Potts don’t have an insitutional connection, and the alternative parties don’t field viable competitors (not winners, but folks who can compete and not be on the fringe).

    The state’s elections laws don’t help things either as statewide races are terribly difficult to get on the ballot for compared to GA races. If indys and alternative parties work to get a few folks elected to the GA, that will give them a platform. Given how split the GOP is becoming on a state and local level, and how the Dems lack competitiveness in GA races, it’s a great opportunity for an alterative party (or more than one) to shake things up.

    — Conaway

  7. The non-socio-cons plus the non-weed-libertarians would be awesome.

    Also: my word verification for this post was “sales.” When has that ever happened?

  8. Avatar

    If the libertarians and non-social conservatives broke off, and then the lefties went with the Greenies, what would be left would be a solid, centrist party to run Virginia well, but who would be kept honest by the extremeties. Dare we dream in such a manner?

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Conaway, as much as I love how you write and much of what you write, I’ve got to ask you where is this solid centrist party on issue by issue?

    The polarizing effect of ACW II, aka The Great US Culture War, is to build two opposing positions with a diminishing middle.

    Issue by issue there is little common ground philosophically on the basis of policy, but plenty of common ground in the actual governance of local and state government practically.

  10. Avatar

    JAB: That’s just it. The actual middle is much larger – in my mind – than the two poles that dominate. It’s a Venn Diagram situation – most voters come down as between moderate-liberal or moderate-conservative. In reality, the loudest voices on the Right and Left tend to represent the smaller fringes, but command attention and resources. Public opinion polls indicate the existence of a moderating force among voters.

    Abortion: most of the country supports the legality of some abortions, just not all. Most oppose heavy restrictions on the procedure. Thus, a broad centrist group would reflect that and reject the hard Right (no abortions with few exceptions) and the hard Left (abortion on demand under most circumstances). The middle comes down between trimester restrictions and banning abstraction & dilation (the correct name for the so-called partial birth procedure).

    Taxes: most people support some level of income, property and consumption taxation. The issue becomes the degree, which can be manipulated by most politicos. The Hard Right opposes most taxes, esp. on estates, investments and wealth generators; the Hard Left wants to tax the hell out of the rich.

    Education: most people support strengthening the public system while allow for some innovation via charter schools and then limited vouchers. The Hard Right says private school are preferred and thus vouchers are great and teachers unions must be stymied. The Hard Left opposed all vouchers, most charter schools, and won’t budge on teacher accountability.

    Gay Rights: most people support gay non-discrimination and intrusion, but not necessarily through special status. The Hard Right pushes anti-gay marriage, anti-civil unions, anti-gay adoption, anti-nondiscrimination laws – mostly no ability for gays to be equalized or protected. The Hard Left wants full equality of gays and straights, including relationships. Most people feel that gays have the right to live their lives in peace and even have civil arrangements of some sort, but they stop short of marriage and hem and haw on adoption.

    I could keep going, but that would take forever. On issue after issue, “the people” tend to track toward a balanced middle, depending on the situation, but the poles appeal to their emotions. I know that this may not suffice, but it’s a start.

    For sake of argument, if you take the 17 VAGOP house mavericks, and add the moderate Dems, you’ll be tracking close to 50% of the House. Add in the Senate GOP leadership and the moderate Dems, and you’re well over 50%. In your own party, there is a huge battle brewing between economic conservatives & libertarian types, and social-religious conservatives.

    — Conaway

  11. Conaway-The only problem with your well-reasoned analysis is that moderates are by definition not activists. Thus, they don’t engage politically, and the extremes are left to dominate electoral politics.

  12. Avatar

    Claire, that’s a good point in terms of voters. What it means is that moderate politicians on both sides need to refine their messages to not seem squishy and thus, to counteract the extremes by leadership. Two examples would be Tom Davis and Joe Lieberman. Both men tend to vote with their parties, but on a number of issues (Davis on social issues, Lieberman on national defense), they are clearly hewing to the sensible center and standing there firmly. Their contemporaries should take similar tacts, and help inspire moderate voters to become more active and engaged.

    — Conaway

  13. Conservative and Liberal
    Republican and Democrat

    have reached the point where the carry too much emotional baggage.

    Time for a Pragmatist party.

    A Pragmatist could be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, willing to allow people to run their life, but unwilling to pay for it. Willing to put a floor under the bottom and unwilling to steal the roof over the top.

    Campaign slogan:

    Moderation in EVERYTHING.

  14. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Conaway: I’m in LA, CA, Left Coast, again for business. But, seriously, when I spend some time back home at home in God’s Country, you need to drive East for 1.5 hours and come set a spell with me. I need a whyte board or napkin to show you how you are absolutely right in what you say, but the locus of the mass for the majority has its origins on the right ( in Conservative thought).

    I’ll offer you sweet tea or a libation (for medicinal purposes only) as you choose.

    CG2 and all y’all others should be invited too, or its too rude. I just think Conaway and I can have a meeting of the minds instead of agreeing politely to disagree.

    (I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs Wilcox, at Walter Reed Elem School talking about ‘rude’ as about the worst thing ever. I have never heard that word before. (My Mother used ‘common’ as an insult). I knew I didn’t want to be rude – ever.)

  15. Avatar

    JAB: I’ll take you up on that offer very soon. I imagine that you are rarely rude.

    — Conaway

  16. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Conaway, you have my email. ‘Holler’ when you come down the pike.

  17. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, I think the tenets of your “pragmatist” party truly would represent a majority of Virginia voters. Good line: “Willing to allow people to run their life, but unwilling to pay for it.” Sounds kinda libertarian, though, doesn’ it?

  18. Madisonian Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. However, I’m optimistic that a “centrist” party is not as far off as everyone believes. I think the example set by Sharon’s defection from Likud and subsequent electoral success (according to the polls) with a center party shows that voters might be willing to accept just such a party. While I realize that Israel may not provide the perfect example, I think on a state level such a revolution might be possible.
    In a related vein, were someone like John McCain to become President, I don’t think its unforeseeable that, following a fight with Republican leaders in Congress, we might see just such a move. As I posted earlier, McCain/Lieberman ’08?

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