Democrats Keep Falling for ‘Superstar Losers’

The Atlantic
November 02, 2022

In the early 2000s, the Japanese racehorse Haru Urara became something of an international celebrity. This was not because of her prowess on the track. Just the opposite: Haru Urara had never won a race. She was famous not for winning but for losing. And the longer her losing streak stretched, the more famous she grew. She finished her career with a perversely pristine record: zero wins, 113 losses.

American politics doesn’t have anyone quite like Haru Urara. But it does have Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. The two Democrats are among the country’s best-known political figures, better known than almost any sitting governor or U.S. senator. And they have become so well known not by winning big elections but by losing them.

Both Abrams and O’Rourke have won some elections, but their name recognition far surpasses their electoral accomplishments. After serving 10 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, Abrams rose to prominence in 2018, when she ran unsuccessfully for the governorship. O’Rourke served three terms as a Texas congressman before running unsuccessfully for the Senate, then the presidency. And they are both running again this year, Abrams for governor of Georgia, O’Rourke for governor of Texas. They are perhaps the two greatest exponents of a peculiar phenomenon in American politics: that of the superstar loser...

The same might be said of today’s superstar losers. Online fundraising platforms such as ActBlue and WinRed give even state-level candidates the ability to draw support from—and build a following among—donors all across the country, a phenomenon that David Karpf, a political scientist at George Washington University, told me has nationalized local and state races.

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