‘Tis the season for charge and countercharge, smear for smear, for endorsing candidates through letters to the editor, for articles from pundits like me, pointing all this out. Usually, the tactics of character assassination and ethics violations are used at the state and national level, but this year’s local contests are following the higher levels of government at least in their viciousness.
I’m not going to get into this fray except to help you, the reader and voter, to understand the common campaign tactics used during political campaigns in state and national government from an insider’s perspective.
As one elected official recently shared with me, it’s not uncommon to be accused of ethics violations starting in September of an election year, as he was by a friend of his opponent. Why September? Realistically, most voters don’t pay much attention to elections until after they send their kids back to school. Voters care more about taking vacations and relaxing during the dog days of summer than who is running for office.
Often, ethics violations will not be decided until after the November elections, so the accusation is often enough to create doubt and suspicion, and hopefully a change of votes to the accuser’s side. After the election, few really care about truth of the matter.
Those running for office know this, so September is when the fur begins to fly.
Now we are in October and the pressure to win increases. Incumbents hate losing more than anything. It’s so humiliating. Incumbents will fight and accuse and attack even more fiercely with campaign ads that may or may not be telling the whole truth. It’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall. If enough is thrown, some of it will stick in the mind of voters. Human nature, being what it is, negative campaigning unfortunately is more effective than pointing out one’s own sterling qualifications for the job.
Timing is everything. Absentee ballots should be arriving in your mailboxes at the end of this week. If a candidate can time his or her attack to reach voters at or near that time the accusations tend to be more effective in garnering votes.
You will be reading campaign endorsements in the letters-to-the editor section in the next few weeks. Those letters more than likely are part of the campaign strategy of the candidates and their committees. Take them with a grain of salt. They are there by design – free advertising. Average citizens usually don’t write endorsement letters. Friends and allies of candidates do, though.
Most candidates face the problem of balancing the amount of money they spend with getting the biggest bang for their buck. Full page color ads in the local newspaper cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 a page. Full-color mailers to all the voters can add $2,000 to the cost of campaigning for each week they are sent. Letters can be even more expensive, based upon the number of recipients.
These are some of the decisions candidates have to decide. King County provides mailing lists free of charge with addresses of citizens who have voted either 4/4, or 3/4, 2/4, 1/4, or not at all in the past four elections. That way, candidates can target those most likely to bring them votes.
As you can see, running for election is an expensive, nerve-racking and time-consuming occupation. It’s not for the faint of heart. The motivation has to be there, either to serve the constituents or to find a way to make holding political office worthwhile, be it for personal gain or ego-building. There is always a pay-off for the candidates – if they win. Few run for office without strong motivations.
Think about these factors during the next few weeks before the November election. The more informed the voters are about the candidates and issues, the better government there will be.