Friday, October 29, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Behind the misleading mud-slinging

For the moment let’s accept the fact that negative campaigning is effective in positioning one candidate against another. Of course by “effective,” we’re assuming more people will be convinced to cast a vote for the candidate who’s not being vilified by the negative campaign.

Now let’s ask the question: What if both candidates are engaged in the same negative positioning? Will it still be an effective way to garner votes? Or will it cause the electorate to become entrenched behind the candidate they originally favored?

This may be the perfect campaign season to find out.

In both the U.S. Senate race and the 3rd Congressional District seat, the chosen approach has been to malign and vilify the opposition. In fact, just finding out what each candidate stands for can be quite the chore.

It’s as if we are asked to believe it’s less important to know what one candidate brings to the position than it is to understand the catastrophe it would be if voters elected the opposition candidate.

How different are the opponents in these two races?

Here are two statements from the candidates running for the 3rd Congressional District seat. See if you can you identify which statement is from Democrat Denny Heck, and which is from Republican Jamie Herrera.

“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the federal government bears the lion’s share of responsibility for completing the Columbia River I-5 Bridge.”

Compared to:

“I look forward to being a strong advocate for this project both in Congress, and right here in Southwest Washington working with local, regional and state leaders to get the job done.”

The statements are more or less the same, yet the negative rhetoric we’ve heard in this contest suggests the candidates are miles apart on this and many other issues.

A similar lack of distinction can be found behind all the mud-slinging in the U.S. Senate race as well.

Take the issue of health care for example. Republican Dino Rossi is on the record saying the health care package that passed this past year should be repealed. Rossi points out that her opponent, Democrat Patty Murray, helped author the bill.

Now for a couple of statements from the candidates on what they believe health care reform should include:

“Lower health insurance costs… a greater variety of health insurance plans, and give people choice…”

Compared to:

“Provide more choice and stability for families and businesses.”

Admittedly, these statements are out of context – something we’re too often accused of doing in the media. I do it, however, to make a point.

Millions of dollars are being spent on negative, demonizing and often untruthful (or at the very least, misleading) campaign rhetoric to distinguish the candidates. Maybe they do it because the differences in the end are not that great.

These four candidates all contend that small business in America is what needs the attention and support of the federal government. Unfortunately, they are all so involved in painting an evil picture of one another. Knowing the lesser of those evils is anyone’s guess.