WHAT MONEY CAN'T BUY

Sean Eldridge Is Learning A Pretty Face And A Rich Husband Won’t Get You Into Congress

Sean Eldridge has a lot going for him. He’s the son of two physicians and head of his own venture capital firm. He attended Harvard, where he met his husband-to-be, Chris Hughes. As one of the co-founders of Facebook, Hughes is fabulously wealthy, so the couple live comfortably in a $1.9 million house they bought in the Hudson Valley of New York.

What Eldridge will not have any time soon is a seat in Congress. Despite pouring nearly $2 million of his own money into a campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Chris Gibson, Eldridge is running well behind. Political observers have called Eldridge’s campaign “a flop,” and Eldridge has resorted to trumpeting an internal poll that shows him cutting GIbson lead in half: to ten percentage points. 

Internal polls are notorious for giving candidates the kind of results they can trumpet, regardless of the reality. (Gibson’s internal polls shows him up by 26 percent.) The reality in this case is that Eldridge is so far behind, he will never catch up.

Eldridge had a couple of strikes against him from the outset. Being gay was never really one of them, but being a carpetbagger was. Eldridge and Hughes chose their house in what looked suspiciously like a case of district shopping. (They originally bought a home in another Congressional district, but moved when that seat looked unattainable.) He also had the misfortune to go up against a hometown boy in Gibson, who lives in the house where he grew up and is one of the least wealthy members of Congress.

Eldridge then proceeded to run a virtual campaign, which might make sense given his husband’s background, but which ended up irritating some would-be Democratic allies, who expected to be courted in person. And Eldridge’s deep pockets made him an easy target for Gibson, though the Republican has raised comparable sums of money from GOP-aligned PACs.

Perhaps the final strike against Eldridge was deciding to run in an off-year. This election cycle heavily favors Republicans, because Republican voters, who are generally older, turn out in higher numbers than Democrats do. But Eldridge hasn’t made many inroads with traditional Democratic voters either. Just a month ago, he was still unknown to more than half of the likely voters, including Democrats.

Eldridge still has a promising political future. He’s shown a lot more than a pretty face. He’s got a grasp on policy, his heart is in the right place, and he improved on the campaign trail as the race has worn on. He and Hughes will not repeat the same mistakes.

And it’s true that Eldridge could still pull off an upset on Nov. 4. But what Eldridge is more likely to learn is that even money can’t buy miracles.