Last September, BuzzFeed threw shade at Sean Eldridge because he failed to mention his husband, Chris Hughes, in his official campaign bio or in a three-minute ad when he announced his candidacy for New York’s 19th congressional district. As I noted at the time, this was neither surprising nor foolish: “When mounting a congressional campaign, candidates are well-advised to emphasize the parts of their biography that potential constituents will relate to and to deflect attention from the things that might serve to alienate them.” Besides, the fact that Eldridge is gay-married to a Facebook millionaire is hardly a secret—it’s mentioned in the lede of just about every story about him, including this one.
In the six months since then, Eldridge’s campaign for the rural upstate district has been mounted by a dizzying array of expensive outside consultants (hardly a surprise for the spouse of a guy who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 online organizing campaign), but a new story in Politico suggests those strategists may be hurting Eldridge. According to the piece, despite spending more than $700,000 on the campaign, the candidate remains an enigma:
Congressional challengers typically seek maximum media exposure; Eldridge allows few chance encounters with the media. His campaign frequently posts pictures on his Facebook page of the candidate out and about in the district, but local reporters say they’re usually not made aware of his public schedule ahead of time.
Since Politico reporter Alex Isenstadt didn’t get access to Eldridge, the story relies on quotes from others: residents of the district who have benefited from investments from Eldridge’s venture capital firm; a local radio host who found him callow and “cookie cutter”; and, of course, his Republican opponent, Rep. Chris Gibson, “a 24-year Army veteran who served four tours in Iraq,” who paints Eldridge as a carpetbagger.
There’s nothing homophobic about the piece or any of the quotes it contains, but because Eldridge remains such a spectral presence, he fails to offer another narrative to rival “husband of very rich man.” There’s nothing untrue in that description, of course, and it’s the only reason a 27-year-old law-school dropout could mount such a high-stakes, high-profile campaign, but I’m sure that for personal and political reasons, Eldridge would prefer that voters in the district—and those of us observing from miles away—thought of him as more than that.
Eldridge’s decision to decline Isenstadt’s interview request (he explained to a local reporter that “we’re not really concerned with a D.C.-based blog”) now seems like a strategic error—and as a journalist I’d prefer it if everyone made themselves available to the media. But Politico’s obsession with the lack of access also seems a little disingenuous. The nearly three-minute video of Isenstadt chatting with the site’s executive editor, Rick Berke, about his unsuccessful efforts to get face time with Eldridge feels like a warning to other congressional candidates who might be contemplating icing out Politico. Still, Eldridge’s attitude is a little surprising from a man who’s married to a journalist—after all, Chris Hughes isn’t just the owner of the New Republic; he’s listed on the masthead as “publisher and editor-in-chief.”