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On Negative Campaigning

September 13, 2010

Here’s to competitive elections. Here’s to spirited primaries that are fights for the soul of a party. 

Such races are terrific when focused on issues and core ideology. But when it comes down to the wire and the race is very close, the strategists often conclude that the only thing they can do is go negative. Then it’s all about bringing the other person down, not building yourself up. And once it starts, it gets ugly. 

You see it now with Eric Schneiderman and Kathleen Rice, and you see it with Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino. There’ll obviously be a “winner” in both of these races, but the individuals who win will be damaged goods to a certain extent. 

If it’s Schneiderman, the notion that he’s a big part of the problem with the chaotic State Senate has been seeded in the general populace by Rice’s negative ads.  And if it’s Rice, the notion that she’s weak and unqualified has been underscored by Schneiderman’s ads. 

The beneficiary, obviously, Staten Island DA Dan Donovan who will no doubt pick up these themes in the general election. 

The same is true on the Republican side. Lazio’s ads suggest  Paladino “shouldn’t be believed” on anything. And Paladino hits Lazio as a liberal and former lobbyist. 

Portraying each other in disparaging ways isn’t the worst of it for the Republicans. Equally troublesome is the fact that they are depleting scarce resources. 

This is even more disturbing on the macro level. In this regard, this is a year in which New York voters started out in a disgusted and angry mood. Now they are being subjected to usually nasty campaigns.How will this cut? Well, it’s a safe bet that it won’t make a lot of people very enthusiastic about voting for anyone. It’s a safe bet turnout will be extremely low across the state.  And in such a scenario, we don’t see anyone getting the kind of mandate they need to govern successfully – which makes us all losers.

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