For excellent reasons, the main one being common sense, New York will be far from the thoughts of Iowa Republicans in their caucuses on Tuesday night. But the city’s mayor has surprisingly been an issue. At least, he has been for one candidate, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
Twice in the past few days, Mr. Gingrich has cast the Republican front-runner, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, as a born-to-the-purple type who would happily purchase victory — just as Michael R. Bloomberg did, he said, to win control of City Hall. By contrast, he himself is just plain folk, the former speaker told an audience in Iowa last week (neglecting to mention his $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany & Company).
“We don’t come out of a background where we can buy a seat or buy, as Mayor Bloomberg did, buy the mayorship of New York,” Mr. Gingrich said. “I mean, if you just look at how much he spent, he just wrote a check and bought it.”
Not content to leave it at that, the candidate returned to this theme on Sunday after attending Mass in Des Moines, his soul rested but not, apparently, his tongue.
“You figure out, between 2007 and 2008 and 2011 and 2012, how many dollars per vote Romney has spent, and it will rival Bloomberg,” he said.
The New Yorker “did buy an election,” he said. “Romney would buy the election if he could.”
Asked about the Gingrich remarks last week, Mr. Bloomberg shrugged them off. He has gotten quite good at shrugging, thoroughly unfazed as he is by criticism of the vast fortune he has poured into his three mayoral campaigns.
Whether it’s fair to say that he bought his mayoralty will be left to editorialists. The fact remains, though, that he spent enormous sums, more than $260 million altogether. As a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism, Mr. Gingrich might have noted that this total is not much below what the Holy See spends in a year — about $312 million in 2010, according to the Catholic News Service.
We’re not privy to Mr. Romney’s finances, but he would have to lay out about $175 per vote in Iowa to match Mr. Bloomberg in 2009, when he won re-election over William C. Thompson Jr. by a narrow margin, despite having outspent Mr. Thompson by roughly 14 to 1.
The size of the mayor’s wallet aside, the Iowa voting on Tuesday is a reminder of how irrelevant New York voters are to national candidates. Republicans don’t bother campaigning in the city because they know they can’t win, and Democrats don’t bother campaigning because they take us for granted.
One thing nearly all of them do, however, is come here for campaign cash. They come for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks. “Go where the money is,” Mr. Sutton advised in his 1976 memoir.
The money is here, just as caucus votes are in Iowa. But New York’s wealthiest are not nearly as skilled as Iowans when it comes to using their strength to local advantage.
For decades, presidential candidates have felt compelled to pledge allegiance to corn-based ethanol, a biofuel of debatable value, to win votes in corn-growing Iowa. Ethanol has not been as dominant an issue in this campaign as it used to be; indeed, a longtime federal credit for ethanol production expired over the weekend in a manner worthy of T.S. Eliot — not with a bang but a whimper. Still, the issue retains enough latent potency in Iowa for candidates opposed to ethanol subsidies to tiptoe around the issue.
Why can’t this city’s megawealthy learn from Iowans? Mr. Bloomberg, for one, understands the power of the purse in dealing with political candidates. “I will look at every race and decide who I think is going to do the most for New York City,” he said in 2006. While he hasn’t always stayed true to his own pledge, its premise is sound.
Imagine the possibilities if 1 percenters here told cup-rattling candidates: You want my money? Then agree to more federal support for mass transit. You want my money? Then promise to do more to rebuild crumbling bridges and highways. You want my money? Then do more to make reasonably priced housing possible.
In the main, our super-rich have done nothing of the sort. Fact is, in this regard they’re simply not as clever as the average Iowan.
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