Eliot Spitzer’s populist push, and why it just might work

August 8, 2013

Eliot Spitzer's new ad campaign is all about you.

It's a smart stroke of populism for a candidate for New York City comptroller weighed down by a prostitution scandal that forced him to resign as governor in 2008.

In a pair of new ads first reported by CNN's Peter Hamby Wednesday, Spitzer makes a pitch for votes not on the basis of likability, relatablity or charisma. He's not going to win that battle, and he knows it. So Spitzer goes at it another way, with an effort to make the contest less about him personally and more about voters.

Spitzer doesn't say a word in either spot.

The former governor is known broadly for two things. One is the scandal that brought him down in dramatic fashion. The second is his reputation as a scourge of Wall Street during his time as a prosecutor and governor. He is embracing the latter label in his campaign, suggesting that the people who oppose his candidacy mostly belong to the large corporations and banks he fought, as well as the political establishment.

"Those corporations that Eliot Spitzer caught underpaying their low-wage workers don't want him as comptroller," says the narrator of one the spots, which features image after image of everyday New Yorkers.

Spitzer released an apology ad early in the campaign more or less cut from the same cloth that Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford used for their mea culpa ads. But the thrust of his broader campaign message has stood apart. It's been less about redemption than it has been about pragmatism. Vote for me because it's in your best interest, Spitzer seems to be arguing, not based on what you think about me personally.

Here's why it could work: The more voters think about what's good for them, the less they are thinking about Spitzer and his troubled past. And the less this race becomes a referendum on Spitzer's downfall, the better his odds of winning become.

In short, Spitzer's message could give voters who are uneasy about giving him a second chance some justification to vote for him. This race is about me, not the guy with the prostitution scandal, those voters might think.

We'll find out next month whether New Yorkers will embrace Spitzer's message or disregard it in favor of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. For now, this much is clear: Spitzer wants you to know about his past -- just not the part that likely comes to mind first.

Fixbits:

More trouble for embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (D): Two military veterans who were victims of sexual assault while they served are alleging that Filner touched or flirted with them in an inappropriate setting.

President Obama will deliver a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

White House adviser Pete Rouse has told friends he plans to leave the Obama administration this fall.

Weld County Colorado District Attorney Ken Buck (R) is back. He plans to challenge Sen. Mark Udall (D).

Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) is headed to the Jindal administration, which will trigger a special election for his seat.

A Kauai attorney has filed an FEC complaint against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii). Meanwhile, the Hanabusa aide who offered to be an intermediary between Hanabusa's Senate campaign and the drug industry has resigned.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) backs the RNC's push to take more control of Republican presidential primary debates.

Donald Trump says he beat House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in golf.

Must-reads: 

"Security threat from Yemen complicates Obama’s Guantanamo plan" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Obama cancels summit meeting with Putin over Snowden case" -- Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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Chris Cillizza | August 7, 2013