Voters in the 1928 presidential election were warned by a campaign leaflet: “Bootleggers and harlots will dance on the White House lawn if Al Smith is elected president!”
Oh, my! Poor Al carried only eight states and lost to Herbert Hoover by 17 percentage points. Some say it was because the turnout was so low among the rumrunners and floozies. More likely, it was because Republicans rode the crest of the Roaring ’20s and Smith was a Democrat and a Catholic.
As Clark County’s Nov. 8 election draws near, no one has deployed the bootlegger/harlot campaign tactic, but it’s still early. With nine days left, the tawdriness will intensify. Perceptive voters know what’s going on here. Unsportsmanlike conduct increases in the homestretch because culprits know that, by the time they’re held accountable, the election is long gone. All of their hit-and-run damage is viewed only in rearview mirrors.
And by “their” I mean the vague, nefarious political support groups with secret donors. It’s never the candidates themselves. They’re pure as the driven snow, and “oh, gosh, I can’t control what these independent groups do.”
If you’re wondering which political party is most guilty of hit-and-run campaigning, well, it’s never your party. It’s always the other party.
Recently the Republican State Leadership Committee of Arlington, Va., inserted itself into the Clark County race for state representative, 49th District. Hit-and-run TV ads were the weapons of choice. Democrat Sharon Wylie was the target of twisted and inaccurate rhetoric belched forth by the commercials, while her Republican opponent Craig Riley swaddled himself in the gosh-it-wasn’t-me blanket.
Actually, though, official party affiliation is not required when it comes to unscrupulous marketing in political campaigns, as we’ve seen in other local campaigns this year.
The local plot thickens
Three races for Vancouver City Council are nonpartisan (no political party listed on the ballot), but that hasn’t stopped the special-interest bullies from barging in. (By the way, as I explained two weeks ago, if you’re wondering what constitutes a special-interest group, it’s always the other guys. What you’re doing is simply representing disenfranchised voters or over-regulated businesses.)
The most unscrupulous campaign tactic on the local battlefield so far (remember, there’s plenty of time left) has been a postcard mailed out by a group committed to “Save Our City!”
The group’s benefactor — Savior In Chief David Madore — is never bashful about proselytizing the virtues of anti-tolls, anti-light-rail, anti-Columbia-River-Crossing fundamentalism.
The front of the mailed leaflet presents a photo of Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris, with a list of horrible happenings in Vancouver these days, plus the urgent exhortation, “Gavel them down!” This might seem strange to many voters, in that neither Leavitt nor Harris is on this year’s ballot, but that doesn’t matter to Madore. What matters is that Leavitt and Harris have angered many of their constituents.
The back side of the postcard shows Bill Turlay and Josephine Wentzel, ostensibly the two candidates ordained to “Save Our City!” Nowhere on either side does the postcard mention their opponents, in Turlay’s case Anne McEnerny-Ogle and in Wentzel’s case incumbent Bart Hansen.
The postcard urges voters to enact “change on Nov. 6.” This, of course, is the wrong date, as detected immediately by those of us who’ve never made typographical errors and who work for a newspaper that never has to run corrections.
Here’s the good news about hit-and-run attacks in the final weeks of a campaign: The all-mail voting “season” (2½ weeks) discourages 11th-hour cheap shots. In a typical local election, about one third of participating voters do so in the first week, and two thirds have voted by the Sunday before election day.
A wise voter follows the same two guidelines of a good sprinter: Heed only the advice that comes from trusted sources, and ignore anything you hear in the homestretch.