The five silliest things candidates told me during Missouri’s primary season

September 12, 2022 5:55 am

It’s OK to lose. I lost my first race. It happens. But candidates who delude themselves and/or serially deceive others along the way are an exception (SDI Productions/Getty Images).

The American polity is dangerously divided, and people are deadly serious about politics (which isn’t irrational, since policy outcomes are indeed life or death for many).

But it helps occasionally to pause and laugh at some of the dumb things candidates of both parties do. Indeed, it is one of our only common threads these days.

In that vein — as we close the book on last month’s primary and begin looking towards what is looking to be a relatively uneventful general election — here are the five silliest things that unsuccessful candidates told me during the primary. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not perfect. I’ve got a laundry list of mistakes from my political past – and I could easily write a second column of screw-ups that didn’t make the first list. So, know that I’m not saying anything about these candidates that I wouldn’t say about myself. 

The anecdotes are listed in no particular order except that they alternate between an equal number of  Democratic and Republican candidates.


One U.S. Senate candidate reached out for advice just before launching their campaign and laid out a theory of the race that required building a massive grassroots fundraising base and volunteer army to overcome bigger names. 

When I explained that it would likely cost somewhere between $5 to $10 million, the candidate replied that a digital marketing whiz affiliated with the campaign had projected that the campaign’s launch video would “go viral” and raise $11 million. 

I remember fixating over the fact that the candidate did not give a nice round figure like $10 million or $15 million, but specifically said $11 million – a sort of political analog to seven-minute abs.

“Well, I’m pretty sure that even Jason Kander’s gun video didn’t raise 11 million bucks,” I replied. “And each cycle, there’s only a few ads that go viral. So that’s basing your race on something with pretty low odds.” 

“Look,” the candidate explained, “there’s basically a formula for this stuff.”

The launch video did not, as it turns out, go viral. Nor did it raise $11 million dollars. 

Instead, the candidate would ultimately raise less than a tenth of that much for the entire campaign.


One day in the Capitol, I bumped into a sitting state representative after he filed for state Senate, and I asked how the campaign was going. 

The candidate replied: “Well, I come from the part of the Senate district with easily the most primary voters. So, I’m not sure how anyone else can win unless something crazy happens.”

“Hmm,” I said diplomatically. “And how are your efforts in the other parts of the district going?”   

“Well, I haven’t started campaigning yet,” replied the candidate. “I may get out there and campaign. I may not. We’ll see. With so many primary voters in my area, I may be able to win by just putting my name on the ballot.”

Lest you think this world-view is exceptional, I recently heard another candidate (of the other party) indignantly rationalize their 2020 state Senate primary defeat to a reporter using similar logic regarding the relative concentrations of primary voters in the Senate district: “They were campaigning in my base – my base!! Not over in the area where they…had won before. They were IN MY BASE!” 

Who knew that it was a grave offense to campaign in another candidate’s “base”?

A third candidate I met, this one running for state House, relayed that their campaign had suddenly taken a bad turn after months of going well.

“What changed things?” I asked, expecting to hear about a huge contribution that an opponent’s PAC had used to buy TV ads or a series of negative mailers.

“(My opponent) hired robots to attack me on Twitter!” the candidate exclaimed. 

“Who cares?” I asked. “Normal voters aren’t on Twitter.”

“I bet you vote – and you’re on Twitter!” he said, in what he believed was quite the “gotcha” moment. 

“I’m the furthest thing from normal,” I noted. “Just ask my wife.” 

Let’s be honest: I’m probably one of the 10 least normal voters in Missouri. I write a damn political column.  

Candidates, let me put this as diplomatically as I can: “Their bots are attacking me on Twitter!” is the 2022 version of “They’re stealing my yard signs!” It’s like wearing a neon sign on your forehead flashing, “I’M GOING TO LOSE.” Stop worrying about what @BernieStan420 with eight followers and an account opened last month is tweeting, and get back to the f***ing doors.

 A fourth candidate – and here I do think it’s important to note, a Republican – bragged to me that “I’ve got the establishment and all the business groups behind me, so we’re letting people know they should get on board before the train leaves the station.”

This candidate must have been in hibernation since Trump descended from an escalator in 2015, I thought. On what planet could a 2022 Missouri Republican primary candidate possibly think that having “the establishment and all the business groups” would obviously lead to victory? 

The final candidate I’ll describe ran for Congress, and almost a year out from Election Day, reached out to boast that 700 volunteers had already signed up to help canvass and phone bank. 

“That’s awesome,” I acknowledged, “and they’ll make a huge difference – I know volunteers were the lifeblood of my campaigns. But in a race this big you also need money to communicate. How’s fundraising going?”

“I’ve got $250K in pledges for the fourth quarter,” replied the candidate, and my ears perked up. “Also, I had a great visit with President Obama, whose endorsement we expect after we release our quarterly fundraising numbers.” 

Now that would be a legit game-changer.

And yet four quarters later, after the primary ended, the candidate never even filed an FEC report. Reports are required for candidates who raise or spend more than $5,000. 

Needless to say, the Obama endorsement never materialized.


It’s OK to lose. I lost my first race. It happens. 

Indeed, it happens to the vast majority of candidates. It’s possible to come back from a loss – as has nearly every elected modern president (LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama and Biden).

But candidates who delude themselves and/or serially deceive others along the way are an exception. They usually can’t succeed in comeback bids – because too many of their supporters feel burned. 

I suspect such a fate awaits many of the candidates referenced above.

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Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith is executive director of the Missouri Workforce Housing Association, which supports development of safe, affordable housing. Previously, he taught public policy at Dartmouth College and The New School, represented the city of St. Louis in the Senate, and wrote three books: Trading Places, on U.S. party alignment; Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, a memoir and argument for reform; and Ferguson in Black and White, an historical analysis of St. Louis inequality. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Washington University.