A lot of people are going to wonder at Meg Whitman losing her bid for California Governor, despite spending about $140 million of her own money. I believe it’s the other way round – she lost precisely because she spent $14o million of her money. Here is why:
1. Voters seem to be feeling quite virulently anti-rich right now. When people are losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet, Whitman would have hardly endeared herself to people by showing that she had enough stashed away so as to be able to spend more than a hundred million dollars ;
2. She was a CEO. She could have gotten away with being rich if her wealth had been inherited, but she made her money as a CEO. The only category of people whom voters dislike as much as Wall Street professionals are the CEOs – the people who layoff hundreds, get golden parachutes and make millions in stock options. It’s no surprise that Carly Fiorina too lost.
3. Most importantly – she spent her own money, which means she had less incentive to ask people for donations. The best way to gauge the response to your campaign is by assessing the success of your fund-raising, and also by looking at the sources of your donations. Long before people vote in the polling booth, they are showing their support when they donate. These are the people who will certainly vote for you. By spending her own money, she was giving one less reason for voters to engage with her. When you are spending millions of your own money to run, you are giving a clear indication that this is all about your ambition to become Governor, you cannot even make the usual hollow claim about how you are running because others have asked you to serve the country.
There are other reasons for her loss, of course – her stance on immigration would not have helped, neither would the controversy over her illegal immigrant former housekeeper. Did it matter that she was a woman CEO? is a woman spending millions seen as more threatening than a man spending millions? Would she have done better if there hadn’t been a recession ?
Those are all questions that her campaign should be asking. But in the end, I believe that if only Meg Whitman hadn’t spent $140 million of her own money, if she had decided to fund it entirely through campaign contributions, she might probably have had a much better shot at becoming Governor of California.