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To Beto or Not to Beto

Beto O'Rourke
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
August 1, 2022

Among the greatest sources of frustration among elite Democratic strategists are the whims and caprices of bright shiny object-style candidates—you know, the types that have mastered the fine art of whipping enthusiasm on Twitter or Maddow into seven- or eight-figure windfalls but have nothing to gain from the cash. Often enough, these candidates are not electoral wizards, but rather charismatic small-dollar fundraising machines. And while donors may be satisfied with feeling like they’ve done something meaningful, D.C. political operatives will tell you that much of their money is wasted on effectively unwinnable races. Many secretly wish that the party’s most enthusiastic voters, especially in New York and California, would fall in love with candidates a little more wisely.

The Democrats have been scarred, after all, by candidates like Amy McGrath, who spent more than $90 million in a pointless attempt to unseat Mitch McConnell, or Jaime Harrison, who raised $130 million to challenge Lindsay Graham in 2020. Harrison’s race, in particular, became a national obsession among the political elite. But more than 90 percent of the money he raised came from donors who lived outside South Carolina, and he ended up losing the race by double digits.