On Saturday, the New York Times ran a front-page article about how the endorsement of a single billionaire may significantly shift the dynamics of the Republican presidential primary in Marco Rubio’s favor. The article serves as a perfect exposé on the profoundly undemocratic power of wealthy donors in our billion-dollar democracy.
Just imagine if we lived in a country where the strength of our voices did not depend upon the size of our wallets. This is what the same article might have looked like.
Schenectady, NY – In a huge and potentially fatal blow to Jeb Bush, local car mechanic John Wright announced yesterday that he would back Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primary. For 35 years, Wright has run Wright Way Auto Repair a local garage known in the community for fair pricing and friendly service.
The decision by Mr. Wright is a signal victory for Mr. Rubio in his battle with his rival Jeb Bush in his battle the affections of Republican voters. Respected in his community and well-networked with hundreds of friends and loyal customers, experts say the announcement could lead to an outpouring of support for Rubio and troubling defections from the Bush camp.
“This could be a watershed moment in the campaign,” said Republican strategist Sarah Smith, who is not affiliated with either campaign. “John Wright was just the huge ‘get’ who can signal real seriousness to the rest of the field.”
It comes as a major blow to Mr. Bush, who is seeing his once vigorous campaign imperiled by doubts among supporters, and whose early dominance of the race was driven by his ability to reach and connect with voters like Mr. Wright. Mr. Bush and several other candidates, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, had competed fiercely for Mr. Wright’s blessing.
Alex Conant, a spokesman for Mr. Rubio, welcomed the endorsement, adding, “We know we have a lot of work to do before Marco wins the nomination, but clearly this moves us in the right direction.”
The battle for Mr. Wright’s support — which included months of behind-the-scenes lobbying by aides and appearances by candidates over the last year at dinners and breakfasts convened by Mr. Wright — underscores the growing clout of ordinary citizens in presidential elections, particularly this year, when voters who have assiduously organized their friends and likeminded citizens into a growing political voice have moved to the center of the race.
Mr. Rubio has aggressively embraced the cause of small business owners and workers, such as Mr. Wright’s neighbor and Wal-Mart cashier Celinda Sykes, whom the senator is said to call frequently. Mr. Bush has been less attentive, in the view of some of these citizens: Last spring, he refused to freeze out his longtime family friend James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, after Mr. Baker spoke at the conference of industry group known for opposing protections for low-wage workers.
The lobbying of Mr. Wright intensified in recent weeks as Mr. Bush’s debate stumbles and declining poll numbers drove many donors to consider Mr. Rubio anew. Last week, Mr. Bush’s campaign manager, Danny Diaz, and senior adviser, Sally Bradshaw, flew to New York to make personal appeals on Mr. Bush’s behalf, in the hopes of heading off an endorsement of Mr. Rubio, according to two people close to the former governor’s campaign.
Mr. Wright, according to people familiar with his thinking leading up to the endorsement, takes his time weighing an endorsement in presidential races, after making an early commitment to Rudolph W. Giuliani in the 2008 race and seeing his candidate falter.
But with Wright’s endorsement locked up, Mr. Rubio’s chances of similarly fading just decreased significantly. He can now waive Mr. Wright’s letter around and focus on consolidating his support amongst other politically active citizens. His campaign has indicated he’ll focus primarily on seeking further endorsements from community leaders and local civic organizations that prioritize issues such as higher quality schools, a cleaner environment, and safer working conditions.
As an afterthought, Republican operative Sarah Smith added, “to think, in some countries it seems like billionaires have all the clout and candidates are always fighting over their support.”