Liberal Billionaires: Actually Pretty Good at Picking Which Elections to Spend In

Co-Founder of Advanced Energy Economy Tom Steyer speaks during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ken Vogel and Andrew Restuccia write at length about Tom Steyer, a San Franciscan with the instantly hateable bio of “former hedge fund manager turned philanthropist,” and a man spending big in Massachussetts’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. His NextGen Committee Super PAC has come in swinging for Rep. Ed Markey, one of the House’s leading greens, and against Rep. Steve Lynch, who’s open to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Do read the story, which offers the familiar Vogelian colonoscopy into campaign finance. And take some time to consider how well this race has been chosen. There’s not a lot of competition right now—this is literally the only federal office Democratic primary in the country—but without NextGen, who would consider it a referendum on Keystone? Lynch has offended the Democratic base in other ways, chiefly by being pro-life, by voting against Obamacare (a function of his abortion views), and by being late to the game on gay rights. The race has been a surprise snoozer. Markey’s been 15 to 20 points up all year.

It’s reminiscent of the special election to replace Jesse Jackson. Michael Bloomberg’s PAC threw $2 million into the Democratic primary to make sure pro-gun candidate Debbie Halvorson lost. But she was destined to lose, having pulled 24 percent of the vote in the previous year’s primary, when the incumbent was starting to stagger from scandal.

In Massachusetts and Illinois, the liberal billionaires have learned the lessons of the Tea Party PACs. One: Pick a fight in a race that can’t go against the Democrat. (Outside of Pennsylvania, where Pat Toomey was running a rematch against Arlen Specter, Tea Party insurgents have only gone on to win seats that were already held by Republicans. Cruz in Texas, Lee in Utah, Paul in Kentucky, Rubio in Florida, etc. They’ve lost the Dem-held seats—Angle in Nevada, O’Donnell in Delaware.) Two: Make a litmus test out of an issue that the rest of the electorate holds the opposite view of. (Keystone is very popular!)