By JIM SPEHAR
“Desperate times breed desperate measures.”
– William Shakespeare
We’re seeing and hearing, in these late stages of the 2020 election cycle, what desperation looks and sounds like.
We experience it mostly in the political advertising in print, on radio and television and on social media. It comes in the form of political attack ads which the aggrieved target candidate terms “mudslinging” and the offender likes to think of as “comparisons.” Most political and advertising professionals will tell you they’re usually a sign of desperation on the part of a trailing contender, a tactic of last resort used because it often works.
If you think it’s been bad so far, buckle up. It’ll only get worse between now and Nov. 3.
What we’ve seen as early voting began here in Colorado this week and even earlier in other states doesn’t bode well for Republican candidates, though they’re not the only one’s relying on negativity as a cornerstone of their campaigns. Democrats are buoyed by lopsided advantages in new registrations, a heavy edge in record early voter turnout and remarkable shifts in the preferences of key voter groups such as seniors and suburbanites.
Don’t think so? Consider this from one of Colorado’s GOP-leaning pollsters commenting on news that national Republican campaign organizations are putting only token dollars into the late stages of Cory Gardner’s campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate, opting instead to spend big in other key battleground states. A major Democratic group, the Senate Leadership Fund, also pulled a $1.2 million ad buy for their candidate, a signal they think John Hickenlooper will easily win.
“There’s no reason for either side to put another dime into this state. It’s over,” David Flaherty told the Denver Post a few days ago. “It’s undeniable. The train wreck and implosion of the president will bring a historic number of other candidates down and if you don’t believe that, you have your head in the sand.”
Plenty of heads buried neck deep in Flaherty’s dry earth around here as Colorado voters weigh in after receiving ballots mailed a week ago. In the first three days of last week, more than 300,000 of us voted, a rate 24 times that recorded in the same period four years ago. That’s not good news for Republicans, whose party stands third in voter registrations statewide, which last won a top-of-ticket race six years ago and which sees Gardner down double digits to Hickenlooper, a candidate who once said he didn’t want and wouldn’t be good at the job he’ll likely assume.
Former state GOP chair Dick Wadhams also knows a thing or two about Colorado politics, having run successful and unsuccessful statewide campaigns. His thoughts last week, as relayed in the Post, echoed those of Flaherty.
“Cory’s biggest problem right now is the national political environment, and that has been driven by President Trump’s numbers against Joe Biden,” Wadhams, who’s been as critical of Hickenlooper as any diehard Republican, said. “I’m not sure any money can offset that right now.”
Negativity has also characterized most advertising for both candidates to replace Scott Tipton.
The ads by national Republican groups supporting Lauren Boebert would be laughable if not so sad a representation of what politics has become. Arguably, we have Mesa County Republicans from the McCarney-Kearsley-Rowland wing of that party to thank for providing the primary-winning margin for the least qualified candidate (“She has no business in Congress” opined the Pueblo Chieftain) since gubernatorial wanna-be Dan Maes headlined a major race for the GOP.
We’ve heard talking points from the national GOP playbook equating every Democrat with AOC or Nancy Pelosi. Instead of finer points of health care or economic policies, we’ve seen Photoshopped images of Diane Mitsch-Bush in sports cars I doubt she’d even be able to name, a supposed symbol of out-of-control liberalism decidedly at odds with the political proclivities of my performance-oriented Republican friends. The same can be said of those by national Democratic groups supporting Mitsch Bush. Her few “what I’m for” ads are overshadowed by those featuring Boebert mug shots and tales of legal scrapes, mostly sponsored by national Democratic groups.
Expecting we’ll see more, not less, negative advertising from increasingly desperate candidates in the final two weeks of the 2020 cycle, we might want to keep in mind these words:
“…It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Jim Spehar’s anxious to reclaim his telephone, television and mailbox from political advertising. Comments welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.