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Attack ads – did they work?

Matt Zalaznick and Veronica Whitney
Special to the DailyDeck: Despite complaints, voters appear not to have punished negative campaigners harshly
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“I’m so cynical about politicians, and I get so disgusted with the negative campaigning that I wouldn’t have gone to vote,” said Rhinehart, 43, of Eagle. “But I believed it was going to be a very close race on Amendment 31, so it was important for me to cast my vote.”

Karen Todd, 46, of Wolcott said she voted for Laurie Bower, an independent candidate for Eagle County commissioner, because she is sick of partisan politics.

“Negative campaigning makes me really angry,” Todd said. “Finger-pointing is so disappointing. The national and local negative campaigning left me a bad taste in my mouth.”



Mud was slung by the ton between U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Tom Strickland. Allard was re-elected in a race some people called the nastiest in the nation.

Local mud-slinging



The Eagle County commissioners race between incumbent Commissioner Tom Stone, Democrat Gerry Sandberg and independent candidate Laurie Bower also had negative taint. Stone was the target of a prickly ad put out by the Democratic Party. Sandberg, who has said he had nothing to do with it, lost to Stone Tuesday. Stone took 45 percent of the vote, while Sandberg received 40 percent.

In a last-minute strategy, the Eagle County Democrats ran an ad in local newspapers under the headline “Had enough? Fire Tom Stone!” The ad, which contained a list of Stone’s alleged wrongdoings while in office, was paid for directly by the local Democratic Party.

Then, Ross Palmer, a public relations consultant working for the Democratic Party, wrote in a guest editorial sent to this paper that “four years of fractious, self-serving behavior from the Stones is all any of us should be forced to endure.” Palmer also referred to Henri Stone, Tom Stone’s wife and chairwoman of the Eagle County Republican Party.



Stone’s first comment after he was re-elected Tuesday was that he had won the race running a clean campaign.

“Negative ads hurt the system the most and it helps the candidate who is doing the negative campaign the least,” Stone said. “It gives all elected officials a bad image. People then say, “All politicians are bad. If you start pointing fingers like that, a lot of the public don’t believe any politicians are trustworthy.”

For example, in the Allard-Strickland race, pollster Floyd Ciruli of the Denver-based Ciruli Associates reported 58 percent of voters said negative ads have lowered their opinions of both candidates.

October surprise

Negative ads, Stone said, are a typical last-minute strategy.

“It’s called the “October surprise’,” he said. “You try to keep a negative thing till the last moment, and then you release it when there’s no time to get the truth out. It’s a standard strategy.”

An attack ad that came off more goofy than nasty targeted Councilwoman Debbie Buckley in her still too-close-to-call reelection bid for Avon Town Council.

That ad, which depicted a couple in bed discussing the likelihood of cancelling out each others’ votes, was not paid for by another candidate – or even on another candidate’s behalf. It was paid for mainly by former Avon Town Councilman Rick Cuny, who resigned in June after brawling verbally with Pete Buckley for three-and-a-half years. Cuny said he took at the ad because he opposes having a married couple on Town Council.

As of Tuesday, Debbie Buckley was hanging on to the fourth and final open seat on the Town Council by 14 votes. There may still be as many as 64 ballots left to count in the race.

“It’s hard to tell if the ad had any affect,” she said Wednesday. “I didn’t have anybody tell me they weren’t voting for me because I was married.”

Buckley said she was mainly offended because she found the ad sexist. The man is asking the woman if she’s going to cancel his vote.

“It had an effect on me personally; it made me feel bad,” Debbie Buckley said. “I’m disgusted with all negative ads. I will never one if I run for any other elected office.”

A second ad depicted a model and Cuny, who is saying he doesn’t regret placing the ads.

Privacy invasion

Avon resident Casey Wyse said the only way he could protest the negativity in the Allard-Strickland race was not to vote.

“I came specifically to vote against Strickland, but I didn’t vote for Allard either,” said Wyse, who had message for future candidates: “I think you should worry about yourself. Don’t worry what someone else is going to do. Tell us what you want to do.”

Avon resident John Buchli likened the attack ads, when they’re piped into the homes via television and radio, to an invasion of privacy.

“The whole slinging thing is a turn-off,” Buchli said. “I usually just press the mute button.”

Bower said this election said a lot more about voters than it did about candidates.

“It said a lot about how voters react to different campaign strategies,” she added.

Rather than have candidates talking negative things about the other, Mike Barca, 42, of Edwards, said he’d like to hear them talk about relevant issues.

Still, Barca said, the negative ads didn’t change the way he voted.

“I wasn’t please with negative campaigning. But even without it, I wouldn’t have voted for Tom,” he said.

What really ticked Barca off were the letters to the editor published in the newspapers.

“They attacked candidates in such a nasty way,” he said. “They were worst than any negative campaign add.”

Does the end justify the means?

For Bower, negative campaigning reflects the usual strategies both parties usually use.

“I think people are tired of the negative advertising,” Bower said. “I think the Democrats were frustrated with some of Tom’s (Stone) inconsistencies, but what they took out wasn’t very effective. Gerry (Sandberg) has been campaigning on what he’s not instead of what he is.”

Stone didn’t need to use negative campaigning because he was the incumbent, Bower said .

“He just followed good political strategy,” she said.

Stone, however, said he wished people would spend more time talking about the differences between each other.

“The only comments I’ve gotten is how offended people are by the negative campaign,” he said. “Negative campaign works because we are a five-second sound-bite channel-surfing society. It’s what I can get quickly. We look for tidbits of information and that’s how we make decisions.”

Effective?

How many people were really captivated by the vicious ads?

As he left the polls in Avon Tuesday, Adam Simpkins, who works for a valley radio station, said negative ads are just ridiculous.

“If I’m not producing them, I have to listen to them,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over so I don’t have to hear the commercials.”

Did anybody actually call Sen. Oscar Smith to tell him to stop dumping toxic waste in school playgrounds?

“I’m not going to call someone to make their day even worse,” Simpkins said.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com. Veronica Whitney can be reached at ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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