Monday, October 21, 2002

Campaign Oddity Roundup

Usually, I need 600 words to make a point, but this week I used the old link-three-unrelated-things-together-and-make-a-column technique (including recycling a prior entry below about the Montana ad -- I had a busy week and couldn't find a fourth oddity worth writing about). This Colette Rosati might be a real goldmine of potential column ideas, and decide for yourself about the Montana ad--this Internet thing is pretty cool -- but mostly, I'm just feeling vindicated about Dick Mahoney. I feel like that investment analyst who kept doubting Enron's numbers (and whom Jeffrey Skilling cursed in a conference call) must have felt when Enron imploded. Forget "Independent … Like You." The real Mahoney slogan is: "It's All About Dick."

East Valley Tribune, October 20, 2002

Three oddities from this year’s campaigns:

First, political insiders have long debated whether signs actually work. Nobody knows if signs really help persuade undecided voters or build name identification. Most campaigns post signs only because everybody else does. It reassures supporters, who if they only see opponents’ signs, get very nervous.

But one candidate apparently believes in the effectiveness of signs, because in what may be a first, she’s removed most of hers during the campaign. Colette Rosati, campaigning for the state House in District 8 (north Scottsdale and Fountain Hills), actually paid to have her signs removed before the general election.

(Disclosure: Ginny Chin, a Democrat running for one of the two House seats, has my endorsement up on her website.)

It’s not so remarkable that Rosati paid for “campaign sign removal.” What’s remarkable is that she had to disclose it on her post-primary expenditure report. There’s an election coming up, yet her signs came down (although at least three of the "old" ones finally reappeared this week).

It makes sense only if you realize that Rosati won her GOP primary by appealing to the most religiously and politically conservative voters, touting her endorsement by Arizona Right to Life on her signs. Now that she’s won the primary, she needs to move back to the center pronto -- and those clues about her useful for snaring right-wingers in the primary don’t work so well for the general.

Second, readers, don’t say I didn’t warn you about Richard Mahoney. To those of you who said Mahoney would focus on issues, bring both humor and intelligence to the race, and could energize the radical center, I say: Yeah, right.

Instead, Mahoney has not just been sleazy; he’s been ineffectively sleazy. He’s single-handedly giving negative campaigning a bad name. Dick, your single-digit poll numbers should tell you that whatever you think of the other guys, voters know you’re worse.

Finally, check out this year’s “killer” ad, as apparently calling someone a hairdresser is enough to ruin a candidate in Montana. Once the ad ran, Mike Taylor, the underfunded GOP Senate challenger, simply dropped out.

Taylor ran a barber and beauty school during the 1980’s, which eventually settled a government audit investigation by repaying about $27,000, but without admitting guilt. Taylor also produced several infomercials about his school, and part of his own TV shows, showing him with large hair, bellbottoms, and disco shirt applying lotions to a male customer’s face, appeared in the ad attacking him for alleged student-loan fraud.

There’s been a national debate whether the ad is beyond-the-pale gay-bashing or more-than-a-little-amusing (and heterosexual) “Disco Stu” bashing. Most conservative/Republican commentators find the gay-bashing crystal clear, with most liberal/Democratic observers cracking up at “Disco Stu” effect.  View the ad here and decide for yourself.

Anyone in Arizona probably isn’t well-equipped with the necessary subtextual radar to determine the answer. Subtext? We get our gay-bashing strictly overt and blatant, whether it’s “Vote Gay” signs or vicious direct mail in GOP legislative primaries. I don’t recall much of a fuss in conservative/Republican circles about obvious gay-bashing; maybe it was just too obvious for them to care.

But the most interesting thing about conservative/Republican reaction to the hairdresser ad is the numerous comparisons to the first Bush campaign’s use of Willie Horton in 1988. The anti-Taylor ad is being called as hateful and inappropriate as the racism in the Willie Horton attacks. Apparently, some 14 years late, these commentators now consider that Bush I tactic racist, something not admitted at the time.

Who knows? If Noam Chomsky lives long enough, maybe he can have his past utterances ignored and get rehabilitated and respected -- just like Strom Thurmond.

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