Are Negative Campaigns a Fixture of American Politics?

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin sent out a press release April 14, 2010 attacking Sean Duffy for being a white supremacist and used racial overtones to do it. Is this an indication that Rep. David Obey (D-WI) realizes he finally faces a serious challenger in the 40 years he’s been in office? Are party officials getting desperate to smear Duffy?

The press release states, “Duffy was scheduled to appear at a Wausau Tea Party event Thursday alongside white supremacist  Alabama militia Col. John Eidsmoe (Eidsmoe since canceled).”  It continues, “But even before not answering questions about the Tea Party scandal, Duffy was not answering questions about his unexplained role at a Wisconsin Dells resort where he reportedly fled the scene after his wife got into a shoving match with GOP rival Dan Mielke. Shortly thereafter, his campaign manager either quit or was fired.” 

Perhaps the worst of the short press release comes at the end from Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate where he is quoted, “For someone who has spent the better part of his adulthood trying to prance around on television, Sean Duffy has been pretty scarce when it comes time to come clean about just who is funding his campaign and just what orders his Tea Party masters have given him,” Tate said. “Maybe he’s trying for a gig on “Dancing With the Stars,” where he can pretend he knows how to rumba instead of pretending to be a timber worker.” 

Duffy for Congress campaign manager, Matt Seaholm fired back with a press release.  It states, “In response to the baseless claims of racism thrown at Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy, Duffy for Congress campaign manager, Matt Seaholm, said the Democrat Party of Wisconsin (DPW) owes the Republican congressional candidate and his family an apology. Today, the DPW and its Chairman Mike Tate accused Duffy, who is married to Rachel Campos-Duffy, a Mexican-American, of being a white supremacist.”

Seaholm said, “Sean Duffy is proudly married to a Mexican-American and together they have six wonderful children.   The DPW crossed the line by blatantly playing the race card and insulting the Latino community.  The Democrats owe the Duffy family an apology and Mr. Tate should resign immediately.”

What then about DPW’s claims of Duffy’s association with Eidsmore.  Duffy’s press release says, “Sean believes the views of John Eidsmoe are abhorrent.  Sean is not scheduled to speak at a Wausau Tea Party event and he had no more knowledge of the speakers than Mr. Tate did.”

Seaholm further addresses the allegations that Dufffy is racist by saying, “But today the DPW continued to play the disgusting race card with thinly veiled insults using Latin terms to smear the Duffys such as ‘majordomo’ and suggesting the 4-time elected prosecutor pretends to ‘rumba’.” 

The Duffy campaign believes that DPW used that language intentionally in an attempt to attack Rachel Campos-Duffy’s ethnicity.  Seaholm says, “It’s no mistake the DPW is using these Latino terms to smear Sean and his spouse’s Latino heritage.  Dave Obey should publicly call on the Democrat Party of Wisconsin to retract their accusations.  What the DPW is doing is truly disgusting and shameful.”

Why all the negativity?  University of Wisconsin Madison political scientist Kenneth Goldstein wrote a book about it—Campaign Advertising and American Democracy.  In the book, he argues that negative campaigns contribute to a health democracy because they succeed in engaging voters.  Goldstein says that much of the criticism regarding negative advertising is rooted in the incorrect assumption that Americans are easily manipulated. 

It may be hard to believe, but studies show negative ads help win political campaigns. Refraining from negativity speaks volumes about character, however. Will voters respond? Are negative ads a fixture of political campaigns? These are just a few of the questions critical thinkers must ask.

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2 thoughts on “Are Negative Campaigns a Fixture of American Politics?

  1. Janet the answer is, yes. Until the American people express their distaste for this “mud-sliging” it will continue. When a rival candidate can’t win on the merits they resort to undermining constituency confidence, there-by eroding trust and ultimately destroying an honest candidtes’ reputation. It’s an old, cheap tactic and one that accually insults the very voters this mudsliger is trying to win over. Wisconsinites are schrewd; honesty and wisdom will always prevail.

  2. Negative campaigning is especially going to continue when the candidates themselves don’t have to do it first hand. Mr Balsinger blames ‘the candidates’ for slinging mud, but Rep. Obey can employ plausible deniability. He didn’t sling the mud here, the state Democratic Party did. The mud is slung but the beneficiary, Mr. Obey, can claim his hands are clean.

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