Gov's race is about
barbs and ads, not people
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
SEPT. 15, 2002 - - This year's South Carolina gubernatorial race
seems to be more of a campaign about political ads than a campaign
about ideas, policies or leadership.
It's gotten ridiculous. Just about anytime you read or hear news
reports about the race, one candidate or the other is complaining
about something in an ad. It's as if ads are driving the campaign,
not the candidates' desires for public service to help South Carolinians.
Leading up to the Republican primary in June, Republican Mark Sanford
aired an ad about Christian values that said, "South Carolina
needs a return to real, honest leadership in the governor's office."
Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges took it as a personal insult.
Then during the GOP runoff, Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler ran
an ad that portrayed a soldier in underwear to highlight Sanford's
congressional record on cutting the military. Not only did Sanford
call foul, but his buddy, U.S. Senate candidate Lindsey Graham,
got so upset that he cut an ad calling for the end to negative ads
against Republicans. Peeler's ad campaign backfired and he lost,
but a lot of Republicans stayed miffed at Graham for sticking his
nose in the governor's race.
After the primary came Hodges' immediate barrage of advertising
that highlighted Sanford's record. Again, Sanford complained vociferously
that the ads were negative, although many observers agreed ads about
a politician's record were fair game.
When Sanford returned to the air last month, the tables turned:
Hodges started complaining that Sanford was distorting his record
This week, the advertising brouhaha got kicked up another notch.
First came a report by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal that a Hodges
campaign aide participated in the production of a third-party ad
in the Republican primary. Sanford called for an investigation and
for Hodges to fire the aide, who said he did nothing wrong.
Then Tuesday during the first real debate between candidates in
Rock Hill, Hodges demanded a "no-whining pledge." Sanford
upped the ante with a call for a "no-lying pledge."
Whew! There's just over seven weeks until election day. The ranting
over campaign ads isn't going to get any better. Both sides seem
committed to griping about the other. But more importantly, complaints
about ads are the kind of easy-to-understand conflict that is simple
for the media to report.
Three things need to happen to help refocus politics. First, Hodges
and Sanford need to lighten up with the rhetoric over the ads. They
should realize neither is going to stop using televised advertising.
Why? Because it works. They know it's the best way to reach voters
with specific, targeted messages.
Next, the media should focus more on campaign issues, dig a little
and explain what candidates really mean and stand for. Instead of
doing simple stories about the political horserace, they should
do more socially responsible reporting.
An example is a special project by WYFF TV in Greenville. Through
a special grant, the station is analyzing claims made in candidate
advertisements. News director Andy Still says the station's "Truth
Checks" are popular with listeners who are hungry for in-depth
coverage. "They want new relevant information to help them
make their decisions," he said.
Finally, voters need to exercise their brains and be more than
passive listeners to the messages candidates want them to hear.
They should use the Internet and other research tools to learn more
about candidates running for office.
An informed electorate makes a stronger America. Over the next
seven weeks, spend a little more time to look beyond the ads so
you can make the best choice for the state.
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