2014 is the year of the anti-politician candidate. In an environment where being an incumbent is toxic, a new crop of candidates has emerged. They choose not to run on experience, but a lack thereof. Almost all are Republicans and come from all over the United States.
Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.), a billionaire businessman, is running for governor by touting his business record. Monica Wehby (R-Ore.) is running for Senate as a doctor, downplaying the need for previous political office to be an effective legislator. Greg Orman (I-Kan.) is running for Senate as an “independent businessman.” In Kansas and Illinois, both races remain within the margin of error.
Running as a political outsider with no previous elected office is far from a new tactic. In 2010, Carly Fiorina (R-Calf.) ran for Senate and Meg Whitman (R-Calf.) ran for governor. Both of these candidates were from technology companies. Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett Packard while Whitman was the CEO of eBay. In the case of Whitman, $115 million was used to self fund her campaign. In the end, both candidates were defeated by double digit margins.
In 2010, however, there was a major outlier to the rule. Rand Paul challenged a man named Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Republican primary. Grayson was Kentucky’s secretary of state and had nearly all the institutional support of the Republican Party and hand selected by the state’s political kingmaker, Sen. Mitch McConnell. Paul, a doctor by trade, ran as an outsider and defeated Grayson. In the general election, he largely used the same playbook against popular Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Paul has since been named as a leading presidential candidate since taking office.
In the primaries, anti-politicians nearly took down candidates in two key Senate races. Milton Wolf (R-Kan.) came very close to defeating incumbent Senator Pat Roberts, specifically criticizing Roberts record of being an elected politician since 1980. In Iowa, energy executive Marc Jacobs led Republican primary polling for most of the race, spending nearly $1.5 million of his own money in an attempt to gain traction in the primary.
If the past is a prologue, anti-politicians face an uphill battle. The tangible benefit most anti-politicians have is the ability to self-fund their campaigns through personal wealth. In previous elections this hasn’t had a significant effect on electoral outcomes. But every few elections there is an exception to the rule. In 2014, many candidates hope to be the next Rand Paul, but in all likelihood they will be the next Meg Whitman.