Days are beginning to countdown to the Pennsylvania Primary on May 18 and then on to Election Day on November 2. As the campaign season prepares to get in to full swing, I want to publically state my strong opposition to negative campaigning. Recalling my own experience in last year’s campaign cycle, I know all too well the personal effect of negative campaigning.
On a local level, based on past performance the potential exists for negative campaigning in the Pennsylvania State House 157 race. The Primary has Ken Buckwalter and Warren Kampf seeking the Republican nomination; and incumbent Paul Drucker as the endorsed Democrat candidate. I have had a conversation with two of the three candidates to express my concern that this campaign season not take us down the negative path.
I think that negative campaigning can backfire in local political elections. Poll after poll has shown that voters severely dislike negative campaigning. Ask almost anyone and they will agree: one of the most distasteful things about political campaigns is when a candidate decides to “go negative’ on an opponent. Often times it seems that the definition of “negative campaigning” really depends on which candidate you’re supporting. Many consultants and campaign managers like to call negative campaigning “comparing” or “contrasting” candidates by showing the voters the clear differences between their choices. If your candidate starts “comparing” himself with his opponent, then you’re more likely to look at it as completely acceptable. If, on the other hand, the opponent does the same with your candidate, then it becomes “negative campaigning.”
In our local election, where many of us may know the candidates personally, going strongly negative and personal in the campaign can end up costing you our respect, and ultimately our vote. Sending out a negative mailer about a candidate who everyone knows and thinks is a fairly nice guy probably isn’t going to make us change our opinion of him. It’s much more likely to get us angry at you, instead. I look at this way: if a candidate is severely flawed, then odds are that other people know plenty about his shortcomings. If, on the other hand, the candidate is a generally well-liked person with a clean record, then trying to convince his neighbors otherwise with a negative campaign is a losing battle. Let’s stick to the candidate’s actual voting record and history on issues. An opponent may claim to support a tax cut, for example, but his voting record may show a number of previous votes in favor of tax hikes . . . that would be fair game in a campaign. But personal attacks on an opponent’s private life, name-calling and mudslinging are unnecessary and not OK, and will likely not be favorably rewarded on Community Matters.
If you’re a candidate in a local election who is thinking about “going negative” on your opponent at some point during the campaign, I hope that you will reconsider. The stuff that really wins elections is called Hard Work . . . and if you’re really putting the necessary effort into running a great campaign, you won’t have time to waste on spreading rumors about your opponent, anyway.
Here is a preview of Ken Buckwalter’s campaign mailer for the State House 157, which is going out next week. Ken is taking the ‘high road’ with his campaign strategy, here’s hoping that the other two will follow suit.