Why Longshot Candidates Run for Office

Governor George Pataki
Governor George Pataki

Rick Santorum and George Pataki officially entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this week. Both candidates are showing ridiculously low numbers in the polls. And both seem to be lagging behind in money and organization. With the major networks announcing that they’ll be limiting the debates to the few who are doing best in the polls, both men seem to be longshot candidates at best. Pataki, in particular, seems to have basically no prayer at all of winning the nomination.

So… why are they running? For the same reasons that longshot candidates always run. It turns out that there are an awful lot of benefits to running for office, even if you lose.

First, you can make a lot of contacts. This can be a pretty big deal. Good contacts can get you some nice special deals, land you that great job you’re looking for, mentor you in other stages of your life, etc. In short, contacts are nice.

It will help you pad out your mailing lists. As someone involved in the operation of three small businesses, I can promise you that mailing lists are extremely valuable. They can be great for your own purposes. If you’re the unsavory kind who sells them (we don’t, at any of our businesses), they can be literally worth rather a lot of money.

You get to do the whole thing on somebody else’s dime. The campaign itself is ultimately funded by campaign contributions. Whether you can win or not, if you can convince enough people to donate then you’re not going to have to pay for it out of pocket.

You can get away with billing an awful lot to your campaign. There are a lot of rules on what you can and can’t call a campaign expense. But like all federal regulations, there are a lot of clever ways around many of them. There are an awful lot of things that you can bill straight back to the campaign. At the minimum, you can travel around your entire campaign region (which is national, if you’re running for President) on the campaign’s dime. And you can do it all in style: first class seats, luxury hotels, limousines, fine dining – the works.

It can build your name, fame, and brand. These are all highly valuable things, and they can also be translated into money: book deals, speaking fees, lobbying gigs, etc.

When you look at all the benefits, they’re actually pretty big.

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