Businessman Curt Clawson (R) took a big step toward becoming a member of Congress Tuesday, winning a special primary election in Florida for the House seat formerly held by Republican Trey Radel.
There are at least 2.7 million reasons he won.
Clawson's victory is due in part to his heavy spending. He loaned his campaign at about $2.7 million through early April, a hefty sum for a House race. The money helped him fend off opponents with well-heeled super PACs supporting them. It was also the latest example of a wealthy self-funder running as a government outsider achieving success in the 2014 elections, which are set against the backdrop of deep skepticism about elected officials and scant faith in government.
Self-funders didn't do very well in 2012. Of the two dozen House and Senate candidates who gave the most to their campaigns, just five were winners. Among the top 10 self-funders, there were no victors.
A handful of hopefuls are wagering 2014 will end up differently. They have some reasons for optimism. In March, wealthy former private equity executive Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for governor in Illinois. He faced a blitz of well-financed attack ads from organized labor, but prevailed in the primary nonetheless. He;s running as an outsider bent on using his private sector know-how to fix the state's fiscal woes, which have dragged down the public image of vulnerable Gov. Pat Quinn (D).
In several key Senate races, self-funders have put themselves in competitive positions. According to the Center For Responsive Politics, the biggest self-funding Senate candidates so far are Texas Democrat David Alameel, Georgia Republican David Perdue, former Michigan secretary of state Terri Lynn Land (R), Kentucky Republican Matt Bevin and Iowa Republican Mark Jacobs.
Land has surpassed expectations in Michigan and is in a tight race against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Perdue looks like a good bet to make a GOP runoff in Georgia. Meanwhile, Jacobs is very much in the mix in a wide open Republican filed in Iowa.
In the House campaigns, Democrat Sean Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, has given nearly $ 1 million to his effort against Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), who Democrats feel can be defeated.
There may be an especially ripe opportunity this year for self-funders with no governmental experience. Polls shows Americans' faith in government is quite low. And they seem very willing to consider replacing their elected officials.
The flip side is that many self-funders hail from the business world and could be vulnerable to the kinds of attacks Democrats successfully launched against Mitt Romney in 2012. Already, Democrats are trying to paint Rauner as a 2014 Romney, casting him as out of touch with everyday voters. His comment that he is probably in the ".01 percent" only fueled those attacks.
It's too early to say that 2014 is going to turn out much better for self-funders than 2012, when candidates like Linda McMahon and Tom Smith poured in millions only to lose contests that didn't end up being close despite earlier signs the margins would be slimmer.
But it's safe to say Clawson's win is bound to boost the hopes of a few other 2014 candidates.