Midterm Election 2010

Negative Ads Yield Positive Results -- Again!

By Sam Johnson

Whew . . . it's finally over!

     And at the time of this writing (midnight, election night, with most of the vote in), I'm basically satisfied with the results -- I'm 2 for 2 in statewide races, 3 for 4 in constitutional measures, and 4 for 6 in the contested local races. That's 75 percent!
     But I'm definitely glad that it is over, for this has been one of the most nasty and annoying election campaigns I've ever experienced.
     Generally, I find the election process interesting.
     I usually enjoy listening to candidates outline their ideas and platform, make their promises, argue their case, and try to win my support.
    I enjoy comparing their ideas and philosophies, and I enjoy sizing up their strengths and weaknesses.
     At times, I have even found the election campaigns lively and engaging such as during a “meet the candidates” session or debate on the issues.

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   And there have been times when I've found the political process especially exciting, invigorating, and a real “eye-opener” such as the time I was a delegate to the Democratic-NPL state convention, or when I was a member of a Republican caucus, or the year I played a key role in the North Dakota Libertarian Party and was listed on the election ballot as a presidential elector.
     But never have I found an election campaign so downright nasty and annoying as this one was.
     And I haven't even mentioned the outrageous amount of money spent on it.
    Why the N.D. senate race alone was well over $2 million. . . .
    Unless we find a way to curb it, you can be sure that the next time around, two years from now, we'll get even more of the same. . . .

     I wrote that on November 5, 1986 and it appeared in the Journal under the heading “Electorate Lives Through One of the Worst Campaigns.”
    (An interesting note: new senators in 1986 included future presidential candidate John McCain, elected to the seat left by Barry Goldwater's retirement, and future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid).
     Now I don't claim to be clairvoyant, but what I wrote back in 1986, DID indeed come true two years later, and continued unabated for every election thereafter, with especially nasty campaigns during the midterm elections of the Clinton presidency in 1994 and the G.W. Bush presidency of 2006.
     Not only have political campaigns continued to get nastier and more negative, but spending on these divisive, mean-spirited campaigns have continued to escalate, setting new records at each turn, with attempts to curb the spending and establish some kind campaign finance reform ultimately failing miserably.
     (Another Interesting note: the "McCain-Feingold" act attempted to prohibit unregulated contributions "soft money," but allowed the contribution limit of hard money to double. This campaign finance reform law was challenged as unconstitutional by groups and individuals including Republican Senator Mitch McConnell who wanted no limits on campaign contributions. Ironically, in the 2008 and 2010 election races, John McCain was called to task for airing television commercials that seemingly violated the very campaign finance legislation that bears his name).
      However, it was the Jan. 2010 US Supreme Court ruling that actually eliminated any regulation or reform of campaign finance, by finding that corporations are no longer barred from promoting the election of one candidate over another, and that their contributions do not need to be made public.
     So, the floodgates were opened and we ended up this year with record spending on the 2010 midterm campaigns, and a seemingly endless stream of nasty, mean-spirited, negative attack ads in what experts call “the dirtiest campaign on record.” (Worse even than the mudslinging of our Founding Fathers and the previous Reagan, Clinton, and Bush midterms!)
     The cost of this congressional campaign is estimated at over $4 billion compared to $2.85 billion in the last midterm election.
     Here in North Dakota, initial expenses reported in the Grand Forks Herald of the two congressional races included John Hoeven (R) $2,246,827; Tracy Potter (D) $82,505; Rick Berg (R) $1,236.683, and Earl Pomeroy (D) $2,883,911.
     But why so many negative, mean-spirited attack ads which “favored populists and partisans, and tilted against incumbents and the establishment”?
     Because they work, stupid!

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