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Will Voters Punish Rich Candidates for Their Wealth?

Tuesday, 6 Nov 2012 | 3:45 PM ET
Linda McMahon | Wikipedia

Mitt Romney isn't the only wealthy candidate seeking votes today.

Around the country, dozens of millionaires and multi-millionaires are hoping that voters today see personal wealth as a badge of success to be proud of, not a scarlet letter (or number) to shun.

The wealthy vote-seekers include Linda McMahon, the former professional-wrestling executive, running for Senate in Connecticut. Tom Smith, the coal-mine owner, is running for Senate in Pennsylvania. Multi-millionaire Bill Bloomfield is running for Congress in California.

You can see more of the self-funded, wealthy candidates here.

The question today is how voters view personal wealth in this election cycle.

President Obama has made much of Romney's wealth. We will see tonight whether the strategy has been effective. A survey from Pew Research found that the most common words that come to mind for voters when asked about Romney were "honest," "businessman," and "rich." (Read more: Has Obama Been Good for Millionaires?)

The risk for wealthy candidates is a repeat of 2010. In that election, with Wall Street bailouts and bonuses still on people's minds, wealthy candidates had a poor showing nationally.

According to OpenSecrets.org, more than 90 percent of the self-financed candidates in 2010 lost their primaries or general elections.

Among the high profile losers were Linda McMahon (though she hasn't given up); Jeff Greene, the hedge-fund billionaire who ran for Senate in Florida; Carly Fiorina, who ran for Senate in California, and Meg Whitman who ran for governor of California. (Read more: Rich Will Spend More If Romney Wins)

Of course, the candidates' personal wealth may not have been the cause of their losses. Each race and candidate had their own challenges. And there is little polling evidence that voters have a more negative view of the wealthy today than they had before the recession.

Still, at a time when populism is popular, and "middle class" is the new mantra for politicians of all stripes, wealth may not be as much of a political asset as it once was.


-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter:
@robtfrank

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.