Rochester’s Mayoral Race: Why do Strong Personality Types Make Us Crazy?

There are two major parties in Rochester: the Democrats and the Republicans. No other party has won a mayor’s race here that I know of. At least, not in my lifetime. And really, its just the Democratic Party if we’re being honest. Republicans don’t seem to have run very good candidates and they’ve failed pretty miserably.

So, when into the confusion left in the wake of Mayor Duffy walks former Mayor Johnson, the outcome should be simple: split the party, even if he gets the nomination, and the Republican wins. Hell, there might even be a shot for an entirely different party to win. But that’s probably not going to happen: with Mayor Johnson’s strong personality and connection to his constituency, he’s very likely going to win.

And that just makes me wonder about personality types in politics in general, how they affect the voters and how they affect the opposition parties. And by “strong personality,” I don’t mean “good candidate” or “good at the job given,” though we can fairly say Mayor Johnson was both of those. I mean that whether we’re talking about Bush vs. Clinton, Bush vs. Gore, Bush vs. Kerry, Lazio vs. Spitzer or I am sure many other examples, it seems like not only does the electorate respond favorably to a personality that leaves them with a strong opinion – even a negative one – but the opposition party always seems to react to that personality, ending up with sort of a Bizzaro Candidate that leaves the voters flat.

In the case of the opposition party, I think maybe they feel the need to run a candidate who answers the questions Type A Candidate raises. If Type A spends too much, Candidate B talks about fiscal responsibility. If Type A has rough sex with hookers, Candidate B has to raise a moral flag. That is, of course, in reference to Spitzer, who didn’t run for reelection. But the Republican candidate Paladino was I think more of a response to Spitzer than to Patterson.

What about the electorate? Political parties make decisions based on political tactics, even if they’re losing ones. But what drives us to vote for someone we distrust over someone who, I presume, seems a little flat? Bill Clinton’s sexual appetite was already pretty established by 1992 and we didn’t care. It was still an issue – though the Lewinsky thing hadn’t broken yet – in 1996 and we still didn’t care. His poll numbers remained relatively high even after the scandal, while his personal approval rating dipped.

I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Is it just calculation? Was it really just the economy (“stupid”) that buoyed Clinton, or something else?