Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Value of Name Recognition in Politics

Regarding Pete Domenici, Jr., Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez's campaign did a little research on the affect of having a famous name and/or being related to prominant politicians has on campaigns.

They found several examples in which it didn't help. From Martinez's news release:


2006 Arizona Governor’s GOP Primary

Don Goldwater, the nephew of former U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, ran for Governor in the Republican primary.

Goldwater started the primary leading a field of six candidates by 30%. He led the field of six with 39% of the vote. But Goldwater ended up losing the primary to political newcomer Len Munsil by 11% – awing of 41%. Munsil started the race with zero name recognition.

2008 Colorado’s 6th Congressional District

Will Armstrong, son of former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong ran for the Congressional seat being vacated by Congressman Tom Tancredo. Armstrong entered the primary as the favorite with the support of most of the Colorado political establishment, including former Governor Bill Owens and Senator Wayne Allard. Even Mitt Romney endorsed Armstrong.

Armstrong lost the primary to Mike Coffman 41% to 33%.

2002 OK-01

Cathy Keating, the wife of popular Governor Frank Keating ran for Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. The first primary poll shows her with a 2 to 1 advantage over her nearest competitor, State Representative John Sullivan – 34% to 17%.

But that lead did not hold when voters began to focus on the race. Keating lost the primary to Sullivan 46% to 30% - a swing of 33%.

2003 KY Governor

Ben Chandler, the grandson of former Governor Happy Chandler, ran for Governor. Chandler was the former baseball commissioner and arguably the most popular politician in Kentucky history and began the race tied with Congressman Ernie Fletcher.

Chandler had been elected twice before as state auditor and Attorney General (low information races) but he couldn’t capitalize on his grandfather’s name in a general election for governor and lost by 10 points – 55-45.


A similar phenomena occurs with celebrity candidates. Voters react initially to the familiarity of their names, but the candidates later develop their own images during the campaign. It’s that ultimate image, not the early name recognition, which determines success or failure.

2002 Oklahoma Governor’s Race

Former Seattle Seahawks wide-receiver and Congressman Steve Largent began the Oklahoma’s Governor’s race as a huge favorite. Initial polling showed him with a 42% to 28% lead.

Largent lost the election with 43% of the vote.

2006 Nebraska GOP Governor’s Primary

Former Nebraska football coach and Congressman Tom Osborne ran for Governor. He faced a primary against Dave Heinneman. Osborne was a hero in Nebraska and began the race with a huge lead of 62% to 22%.

But that lead didn’t hold. Heinneman defeated Osborne in the primary 49% to 45% - a 44% swing.

2006 Pennsylvania Governor’s Race

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide-receiver Lynn Swann ran for Governor. January polling showed Swann with a small lead, as did a poll in April which had Swann up by 3%.

But once attention began focus on the race, Swann was defeated by 20%.


I'll go back even further. Back in 1964, when I was but a lad in Oklahoma, Bud Wilkinson, a very popular football coach for the University of Oklahoma Sooners lost a U.S. Senate race to Democrat Fred R. Harris (who later moved to New Mexico and served as a state party chairman and political science professor at the University of New Mexico.)