Candidate Advice

So You Want to Run for the Senate?

Good luck. Here are some questions you should ask yourself.

By Merrie Spaeth
Dec. 30, 2021, 6:30 pm ET

Glenn Youngkin’s surprise gubernatorial win in Virginia has other wealthy Wall Streeters thinking they could run and win too—and the Republican Party is egging them on, remembering the $20 million of personal money Mr. Youngkin threw into his campaign.

There are a few questions these would-be politicos need to answer. Here’s a place to start: How many elections have you voted in? Just a few at the presidential level? That’s not good. Why do you expect to be welcomed by the folks who have been sweating it out on the ground? The party faithful have voted regularly. They’ve turned out for school board and bond elections. They’ve voted for the local community college’s board of governors.

For that matter, how long have you been registered as a Republican? Newcomers will be noted. Don’t think being an independent will count, and heaven help you if you’ve been registered as a Democrat. You might as well have been a Wiccan. If you’re in finance, better check whether you have been involved in such special deals as tax-increment financing or Municipal Utility District elections.

You’ll have to do opposition research on yourself. That middle-of-the-night tweet, the old picture of you and your first wife in an antebellum costume, the contribution to the group that wanted to save Che Guevara’s statue (which you gave only because your nanny’s grandmother asked—and by the way, you did pay taxes on your nanny’s compensation, didn’t you?), the high-school yearbook that names you as having the most girls, and everything else you’ve forgotten or never knew about.

Your consultants will have to come up with explanations for the past, but you also need to be honest with yourself about the present. Sean Parnell, the Trump-endorsed candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, just withdrew as allegations about abuse from his not-quite-ex-wife dominated the headlines.

But onto the main issues. What are you? One high-profile venture capitalist told The Wall Street Journal that he was “pragmatic and moderate.” And he wants to run for statewide office in Texas? He should be disqualified for thinking that’s what’s needed and for telling a reporter. And don’t think that “I am in a position to give back” is going to attract primary votes. Do you have any proposal that differentiates you, the way Andrew Yang’s call for a guaranteed income drew him a following? (He still lost twice.)

Moving to the tougher questions, you need to ask who’s going to run your race and advise you. Since you have money to spend, every consultant is going to pitch you. They’ll all look good, and they’ll all say that you have a good chance. Many races are won because the candidate picked the right consultant for the right race at the right time. But, face it, your first choice is going to be wrong.

Speaking of Wiccans, recall that in 2010, Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell was revealed to have dabbled in witchcraft during college. Her consultants tried to counter with her declaration, “I’m not a witch”—in an ad with a black background, and a black dress, missing only the broom, hat and cat. She paid money for that. Contrast that with Ronald Reagan’s ability to laugh at himself. When a rumor leaked that he fell asleep in cabinet meetings, for weeks afterward at events Reagan would ask people, “Could you speak up? I must have dozed off.” It always got a laugh.

Finally, these wealthy would-be candidates need to remember what will get them elected. Luck plays a big role. It takes nothing away from Mr. Youngkin’s great win to admit that he got lucky. And he was smart enough to recognize it. Democrat Terry McAuliffe blurted out that he didn’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach—and Mr. Youngkin saw his opportunity to ride the blunder to victory.

So, go ahead. Write the big check. And good luck. You’ll need it.

Ms. Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations.

This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Used by permission of the author.