A wealthy New York congressional candidate is playing defense in his first television advertisements of the 2014 cycle, attempting to ward off allegations of carpet-bagging and election-buying.
The ads, which are scheduled to go on air this week, feature Democrat Sean Eldridge touting his ties to a New York congressional district where he and his husband—Facebook cofounder, poke button pioneers, and New Republic editor Chris Hughes—have lived for less than two years.
"In the next few months, you’ll hear a lot about Sean Eldridge," he says to the camera in one of the two thirty-second spots. "So why not hear it from Sean Eldridge?"
According to Polaris, a service that tracks political ads, Eldridge’s campaign will spend more than $68,000 to air the ads in the New York City and Albany-Schenectady-Troy media markets for a week beginning on Wednesday.
One ad takes aim at frequent critiques of Eldridge’s candidacy: that he is a carpet-bagging Californian out of touch with New York’s 19th district, that his venture capital firm operates as a de facto political organ, and that he is using his immense wealth to buy a congressional seat.
"I live in the Hudson Valley because I love it," Eldridge says in the ad.
That statement comes just days after the candidate would not commit to staying in the 19th district if he loses in November.
Eldridge and Hughes moved to the district last year after passing on a run for a different seat just to the south.
In January 2013, the couple bought a $1.9 million home in Shokan and prepared to challenge Rep. Chris Gibson, the 19th district’s Republican incumbent.
"At the age of 26, he moves into our district. He has relatively no experience. He has absolutely no ties to the district and he files for candidacy within a month of moving into the district after the last election," Gibson said of his challenger in an April interview.
In preparation for a congressional run, Eldridge set up a venture capital firm called Hudson River Ventures. The firm has poured money into local businesses, a fact Eldridge touts in his first ad.
Through HRV, Eldridge says he is "investing in local small businesses to help them create jobs."
However, the firm’s prominence in Eldridge’s campaign messaging has led to allegations that he is attempting to buy good will in a district where he is hardly known.
A Republican operative working on the race previously told the Washington Free Beacon that HRV’s activity is "designed to buy favorable headlines and support to make up for the fact that he has no roots in the district, nothing substantial on his resume, and no ability to relate to middle class families in the Hudson Valley."
SKDKnickerbocker, a Washington-based political consulting firm with close ties to the Obama White House, counts both HRV and the Eldridge campaign as clients. The firm produced his new TV ads.
Eldridge’s fortune has more directly aided his political aspirations in the form of the massive sums he has poured into his own campaign. As of June 30, Eldridge had self-financed to the tune of $1.34 million.
Gibson points to those numbers to accuse Eldridge of "using money to buy an election," but the second of Eldridge’s new ads attempts to turn his fortune into an asset.
Due to his husband’s success, Eldridge says, "I have the independence to reject special interest contributions."
Special interests seem to be equally uninterested in him.
The New York arm of the union giant AFL-CIO recently declined to endorse Eldridge’s candidacy, despite throwing support behind other prominent Democratic House candidates in the state.
"His strategy is to pay any amount of money necessary to buy a seat in Congress and nothing is going to get in his way," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ian Prior said in response to the union’s decision. "If he gets zero support from anyone else? Oh well, he’ll just have to write a slightly larger check."
If polls are any indicator, it may take more than money for Eldridge to prevail. Despite the vast sums he’s spent on the race, Eldridge still trails by nearly thirty points, according to recent polling.