Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts of Calbuzz have an interesting op-ed in today's San Francisco Chronicle detailing the plight of wealthy, self-financed candidates in California.

To wit:
Pity the poor billionaire seeking high office in California: Not once in modern political history has a self-financed candidate captured a top-of-ticket party nomination and gone on to be elected governor or U.S. senator in the state.

Schwarzenegger, of course, doesn't count: he avoided a primary by running in a free-for-all recall and won re-election by simple momentum.

So why do rich Californians lose? The question has particular importance this cycle: both of the leading Republican contenders--former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner--are mega-millionaires who will spend heavily to win. For background, self-financed failures in recent years include:

-Michael Huffington (lost 1994 Senate race against Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein pushes for California secretary of state to replace Harris in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE)
-Rep. Darrell Issa (lost 1998 Senate GOP primary, and again stumbled in the 2003 recall)
-Northwest Airlines CEO Al Checchi (lost 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nomination to Gray Davis)
-Bill Simon (lost 2002 gubernatorial race to Gray Davis)
-Steve Westly (lost 2006 Democratic primary to Phil Angelides)

Trounstine and Roberts quote some California strategists who try to explain the phenomenon:
"The problem is that there's an innate suspicion about people running without a history in politics," said Bill Carrick, a California-based political strategist who crafted Feinstein's 1994 campaign defense against Huffington's millions.


"There's a group of voters who find the outsider, business candidate attractive," Carrick said. "They're white men over 50, with anti-establishment political views, who don't like the status quo. But it never gets beyond that universe."

Garry South, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's chief strategist - who helped Davis defeat former Northwest Airlines CEO Checchi in the 1998 primary, and Republican financier Simon in the 2002 general election - cited several reasons for the failure of Golden State silver spoon candidates.

"They have too much money," South said, noting that without normal budget constraints, rich candidates often fail to develop a coherent message or target it to voters. Checchi's consultants, for example, produced a staggering 102 TV spots in 1998, airing 42 of them. Said South: "They think they can say everything about themselves to everybody."

Unlike professional politicians, wealthy rookies lack a group of seasoned advisers, "so they go out and hire everybody in the Western Hemisphere and wind up with a big bloated campaign team with no real chain of command," South said, adding that successful executives often underestimate the difficulty of running for office.

This all may be true--and South's analysis about money crowding out message is particularly interesting--but none of these explanations are specific to California. If it's true that self-financed candidates do worse in California than elsewhere, it must have something to do with California voters.

A tentative theory: in as economically and culturally diverse a state as California, success in business does not command the same respect as it does elsewhere. Californians are more sympathetic to labor and more concerned about the environment than the average American. They're also suspicious about the relationship between wealth and political power. This has a lot to do with California's history of populism, which is responsible for the mixed blessing of ballot initiatives.

Either way, history does not bode wel for Poizner and Whitman.