Monday, August 18, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Recently a Republican candidate in a runoff for a county office sent out a mailer that included some nice compliments about the candidate by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. The mailer also included some photos of the good doctor. The implication of the piece was clear- Dr. Coburn was supporting/endorsing the candidate, but that evidently wasn’t the case. It turns out Coburn’s ‘endorsement’ of the candidate was for a much earlier race when he ran for the state legislature. Senator Coburn sent out a press release condemning the implied endorsement, saying he was ‘disappointed in the candidate. Oops- endorsement may have backfired. The fact is this is not the first time something like this has happened in politics and it probably won’t be the last. Four observations about endorsements:
First, candidates should get permission for an endorsement. That sounds really simple, but you would be surprised how often campaigns just add an influential name to their ‘supporter’ list without permission. When caught candidates will plead ignorance, apologize and remove names, but once the ‘endorsement’ has entered the marketplace, it can never fully be retrieved. More than one candidate in Oklahoma has included photos they took at a fundraising event with the Governor, President Bush, or some other prominent elected officials in their campaign literature. The objective is clear- “me and ‘W’ are tight and he’s supporting me.” It’s blatant dishonesty and reveals a serious character flaw. It has no place in a principled campaign.
Second, endorsements are not the permanent assets of the endorsed. They belong to the endorser. Endorsements have a shelf life. In the case cited above, Dr. Coburn gave his endorsement for a specific race. That doesn’t mean Dr. Tom was endorsing every campaign that candidate pursued for the rest of their life. Common sense would dictate you can’t use an endorsement in one race for another race. Are candidates that clueless? If so, then perhaps they shouldn’t be elected.
Third, endorsements don’t win races. It is always nice to have prominent people endorse you if you’re a candidate. Dr. Coburn is the gold standard of endorsements in Oklahoma. He is well respected and voters value his opinion, but Dr. Tom has endorsed a lot of candidates who lost. Campaigns are won by engaging the voter and getting your message out. In a recent state legislative race, a young man with little money knocked every Republican door in his district and beat a well-funded, “endorsed,” candidate. Shoe leather will beat endorsements every time. The only endorsement that really means anything is that of the constituents in the district.
Fourth, the way a candidate wins is important. Politics is a competitive arena. It is not for the faint of heart. Political campaigns can become nasty and personal, but cheating to win should never be tolerated. Using a past endorsement is cheating. It’s more than a little inconsistent when a ‘values’ candidate lies and cheats. It is a fact that situational ethics has become a part of the campaigning process. Unprincipled candidates may practice it, but candidates with real convictions will win or lose on principle.
Let’s talk for a moment about negative campaigning. Most voters will tell you they hate ‘negative’ campaigns. Then why do candidates and campaigns resort to ‘negative’ campaigning? The reason is simple- IT WORKS. A negative campaign creates a buzz and moves the needle. Negative campaigns are like a car wreck- we can’t look away. What exactly is negative campaigning? Here are some guidelines: Pointing out an opponent’s voting record is not negative campaigning. Caricaturing their voting record is negative. Pointing out an opponent’s lack of experience, education or training is not negative. Exaggerating the difference between you and your opponent is negative. Exposing your opponent’s voting history is not negative. In fact, it should be required that every candidate on the ballot be required to disclose how often they vote. You would be shocked to know that many elected officials don’t bother to vote. If they don’t care enough to show up to vote, why do they want to be an elected official?Next Tuesday, August 26th is the primary run-off in Oklahoma. There are a limited number of Republican races across the state. Check with your local election board for specifics. You can vote in-person absentee on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the county court house. Make sure you know who really ‘endorsed’ who before you vote or better yet, find out where the candidates stand on important issues.