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2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

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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 as governor.

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.

-- 30 --

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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