By Eric DuVall / firstname.lastname@example.org
It started out innocently enough.
The campaign for Rep. Tom Reynolds’ fifth term began with Michele Cox, a Lockport mother grateful to the powerful GOP leader for his assistance in getting her ailing daughter much-needed medical treatment.
The Democrats politely answered, featuring ads with Akron industrialist Jack Davis boasting of his trade policies, which he argues will help the middle class, complete with testimonials from workers at his factory.
Then the Reynolds campaign offered their take on Davis’ call for higher protective tariffs on foreign goods — calling it a big tax hike for consumers.
The Davis campaign responded — with a gong. Their response ad questioned where Reynolds was in favor of creating jobs. “In China?” it asks, as the gong sounds in the background.
It was all downhill from there, with a slight nudge from Florida Rep. Mark Foley, whose scandal over sexually explicit messages sent to teenage boys in the House page program turned up the heat.
Foley resigned and Reynolds admitted to knowing of some of the less suggestive e-mails.
There was a moment where it appeared as though the campaign might take a softer turn. Reynolds, in an uncharacteristic move for a politician, put out an ad apologizing for his failure to uncover the truth sooner.
“Tom Reynolds, you’re fired.” That was the response to the apology.
Throw in a few barbs over Social Security, too. The Reynolds team brought out the well tested “flip flop” phrase for Davis on means testing for wealthy Americans. They charge a Davis radio ad contradicts his previously stated position that wealthy Americans shouldn’t receive the retirement bonus.
Other than the obvious fact that these two men agree on very little, what exactly does it all add up to?
Capitol Leader political editor David Mark, author of the book “Going Dirty: The art of negative campaigning” said negative ads can be effective, but can also muddy the waters.
“(A successful negative ad is) one that plays into a notion they already have about the person,” Mark said. “If there’s some suspicion about Tom Reynolds, that he’s untrustworthy, these ads of him covering up for Mark Foley could work. He’s actually apologized. Politicians usually have to have a gun at their head to make any kind of apology.”
Mark added that one of the tag lines in the Reynolds ads might catch on with voters. Reynolds has repeatedly tried to paint Davis as rich and out-of-touch. Nearly all of the ads refer to him as “millionaire Jack Davis.”
Mark said presumptions about wealthy businessmen are always “fodder for people.”
Whose fault is it?
When asked, both candidates deflected blame as to why the campaign had gotten so negative.
Reynolds, speaking after a gathering of business leaders to discuss the future of the air base, denied he has run a campaign based on attacks.
“I’m running on my record,” Reynolds said. “I’m pleased about the fact that I’m advocating cutting taxes to create jobs. I make it very clear my position on Social Security. I’ve talked about the amount of federal investments I’ve brought to this county, to the region and how important I think that is.”
While Reynolds said he’s “talking about my record any place I get the opportunity,” the Davis campaign blamed Reynolds for distorting their own candidate.
Though Davis declined an interview Friday evening, campaign spokesman Curtis Ellis said the negativity started with Reynolds.
“He’s someone who doesn’t have a record to run on, so he distorts his opponent’s positions,” Ellis said.
What’s a voter to do?
The impact of negative campaigning is unclear, according to Mark. He points to two schools of thought. The more traditional logic holds that a negative campaign depressed voter turnout. Voters tend to get turned off and find themselves with a dislike of both candidates.
Mark advocates for something different, though.
“More often that not, it gets people riled up,” Mark said.
Whether or not that’s the case, some of Niagara County’s voters seemed annoyed with the mudslinging.
Tom Bancroft, a registered Independent who said he plans to vote for Davis, expressed frustration over the tone of the campaign.
“Negative ad campaigning hasn’t changed my voting decision,” Bancroft said. “I would prefer a debate and an am annoyed with negative ads.”
Another Lockportian, Alissa J. Shugats-Cummings, said she’s voting for Davis, but only because she dislikes Reynolds slightly more. She’s “very unhappy” about the mudslinging.
“Candidates feel they are not accountable for their actions as long as they can negatively portray their opponents,” she said. “I will vote for Jack Davis, but I’m only choosing the lesser of two evils.”
Contact Eric DuVall at 282-2311, Ext. 2251