Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Don’t try this at home… Updated

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, October 19, 2006

“You’ve got to go negative… but don’t do it first and don’t do it yourself.”   (Tom Gallagher I think)

Ken Ulman has put out another negative mailer that started arriving in mailboxes today.  It points people to the Ulman created website distorting Merdon’s record.  This time Ulman claims that Merdon wants sprawl.  Well, don’t we all?  Come on.  Please, he really thinks even one person WANTS sprawl?

He also hits Merdon on infill, when Columbia Town Center redevelopment is the mother of all infill projects.

He is also hiding behind the Maryland Democratic Party authority line again. 

As I said before in Desperate (Updated) Ulman wasn’t done.

“This is the first shot in a negative campaign that is going to swamp Howard County … “

Ask 100 people what a negative campaign ad is and you get 100 different answers. 

Some negative ads are ok.  Ads that compare one candidate against another is a comparative ad.  Because it mentions an opponents negatives weighed against the sponsoring candidates positives on the same issues it is lightly negative.

A big difference exists between Ken Ulman’s tactics and a comparative ad.  Ken Ulman attempted to make it appear his negative ads were sponsored by someone other than himself.  He made no attempt to associate himself with the negative flier or website.  The flier and the website offer no comparative distinctions between Ken’s positions and record and Chris Merdon’s. 

Ken Ulman’s tactic is a personal attack that deliberately claims that Chris Merdon has been dishonest on his record regarding growth and development issues in Howard County.

If you think it is fair to distort a record by telling only half truths and not disclosing the entire record then read no further.

Tom Gallagher, a former candidate for US Congress in Nevada once said, “an ounce of fact can carry a ton of innuendo, never give all the facts and be careful not to find too many… [since] nobody’s checking anyway, so when in doubt, exaggerate.”

Tom Gallagher must be on Ken Ulman’s reading list.  By the way, Tom Gallagher does not condone negative campaigning.

Why do candidates go negative.  I read a study that says it is more likely in candidates in close races, or behind in a race. Another reason is when the want to win badly enough.  They justify it by telling themselves, “Hey I am the good guy and I need to save Howard County from Chris Merdon.”

In hiding behind the authority line “By Authority of Maryland Democratic Party, Ken Banks, Treasurer.” and not identify his campaign as the source of the negative materials was an attempt to innoculate himself from any potential backlash.

Backlash?  Does negative campaigning have a backlash?  It certainly does.  The backlash is almost non-existent in comparative negative campaigning.  The backlash is most prevalent when campaigns are discovered to be using surrogates to do their dirty work.  Why?  Because voters don’t like it when politicians (who as a group already have an image problem anyway) won’t face their opponent or the voters in honest debate, and voters think that the candidate participating in such tactics is weak for having to adopt such tactics, and confirms in their minds the worst impressions of politicians.

At this point I doubt Ken Ulman will deny he had anything to do with this attack.  I think we will see him backtracking and claiming that he never denied being involved, but he won’t go into how involved he was.  He won’t explain why he didn’t use his own authority line instead of the Maryland Democratic Party in the first place.  He won’t explain why he went negative.  He won’t explain why he can’t compare his record, positions, and plan with Merdon’s.

What has Merdon to say about all this?  Nothing, as it should be.

So, is this how Ken is going to save Howard County?  Are these his methods?  He proved he isn’t done yet.  I am sure we will see more.

Do you want to really know what concerned me about Ken’s campaign?  Prior to this he was projecting a really soft image of himself.  It was appealling to families, women and seniors.  Hell, I was even buying it.  I guess it wasn’t working.  He should have stuck with the plan because I think he blew it with this strategy.

What will the effect be of all of this?  I think that Ken Ulman probably supressed voter turn out for himself – they may vote for O’Malley but skip over him (I can’t predict by how much).   From what I read this will mostly be among women who represent 51% of the voting population in Howard County.  Women especially hate this stuff enormously.

I also think that those supporting Merdon will dig their heals in and pull the lever for him.  They will go out of their way to get to the polls on November 7th.  Those undecided voters will now most probably fall into the Merdon and Wallis camps on November 7th.

Update: The positives of going negative

According to Dean Michael Mezey of DePaul University,
… what negative advertising does is get your supporters committed and excited. Those who are indifferent are so turned off that they are less likely to vote, as are people who are for the other candidate–so not only does it help you, but it depresses turnout. The ideal, rational goal is to turn out your most committed supporters and make sure nobody else turns out.

Set the stage. Start making noises that the opponent is a big spender or a hypocrite before dropping the big bomb. Set that bomb off early. The closer to election day a negative attack is made, the less credibility it has.

“Certainly negative campaigns work,” says Oklahoma political consultant, Don Hoover. “It works for the same reason that people watch reality TV shows, read Hollywood gossip or slow down at a car wreck. Negative information attracts attention.”

Some campaigns use negative advertising in an effort to demoralize independent voters, who can “throw a wild card” into a race, …That reduces the voting pool to hardcore loyalists, who are more predictable, McCabe said.

Although offensive to some people, negative campaign ads often raise legitimate policy issues, said Ken Goldstein, author and associate professor of political science at UW-Madison.

Claims made in ads often are backed up by research, and if found to be false, backfire on candidates, said Goldstein, who also oversees the political science department’s Wisconsin Advertising Project.

Front-runner candidates should focus on positive advertisements while the underdog should run a more negative campaign.

Voters reward campaign practices perceived as fair, and punish candidates for engaging in unfair attacks. No matter how an opponent responds, a candidate will always do best by making a fair charge.

An exchange of unfair charges makes it more likely that voters say they will stay home on Election Day.  Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service


2 Responses to “Don’t try this at home… Updated”

  1. […] This is the response I predicted in my post yesterday “Don’t Try This At Home“. […]

  2. hickridgesteeler said

    I’d like to be the one person to stand up and say we want growth in HoCo, we want it to be more like Montgomery Co. I got this mailer and it made we WANT to vote for Merdon.

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