Logic behind smear campaigns

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By Sherry Robinson

We’ve all wanted to tell candidates what we think of their mud fights, and I got a small opportunity during primary season. When a candidate came to the door, I said, “I’ve only gotten one mailer from you, and it was negative. Why did you go negative?”
The candidate, who had a long record of civic involvement and impressive endorsements, said he thought it was important to point out certain facts about his opponents. It’s true that we need to see all sides of the candidates, but their competitors are hardly credible sources. He talked a while and was quite likable, but I still didn’t vote for him.
His two opponents also knocked at the door and sent fliers saying simply who they were and what they hoped to accomplish. One of these people won hands down, and Mr. Negative Mailer bombed.
This was a small but admirable pattern across the state and indicates that voters are smart enough or skeptical enough to withstand smear campaigns, regardless of the source. It just may be that the tide of sludge is becoming less effective. We can hit a mental mute button and tune it all out.
The most publicized example was Clovis, where the governor unleashed her attack dog, political consultant Jay McCleskey, on rancher Pat Woods. One ad scorched Woods for taking federal agricultural subsidies, alienating pretty much the entire ag community. Woods deftly yanked McCleskey out of the bushes with an ad labeling him “a slick Albuquerque consultant.” East Side voters made it clear that McCleskey’s tactics were offensive.
On the west side of New Mexico, Rep. Eliseo Alcon, of Milan, was the only Democrat incumbent targeted by Reform New Mexico Now PAC, which is joined at the hip with Susana PAC. Alcon, a progressive’s progressive, always says what he thinks, and he doesn’t think much of the governor’s trademark illegal driver’s license crusade.
“We overcame negative ads, theft and vandalism, and I never said a disparaging word about my opponent or the governor,” Alcon said in a news release.
Those slick Albuquerque consultants don’t understand that in small towns, everybody probably knows the candidate, which makes voters more immune to (and more offended by) attack ads.
Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, found himself in the crossfire, with Progressive Kick, a California PAC, panning him as too business-friendly and Reform New Mexico Now PAC going after his challengers. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, had the same experience.
Both men prevailed, but PAC money may have had little impact. Smith, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, has kept a firm grip on the budget and made tough decisions. Many people appreciate that.
As for Griego, chairman of the Senate Corporations Committee, rural voters in his district stood pat. And he got a whole lot of help — financial and otherwise — from the film industry, which considers him a leading supporter. Film people circulated a list of pro-film candidates and will be involved in general elections.
The left also found Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, not progressive enough. Many lawmakers claim to “work across the aisle,” but Muñoz actually does it. In the last session, he sponsored several bills with Republicans, mostly related to DWI. And he’s business-friendly, which isn’t really shocking because Muñoz is a businessman. Griego is a realtor. Smith is a real estate appraiser.
Economic savvy is a hallmark of moderate Dems. One reason so many of them hail from rural New Mexico is that rural communities are eager – sometimes desperate – for economic activity. If their public officials don’t get that, they won’t last long. This seems to be a blind spot for progressives.
So here’s a cheer for the moderates of both parties and wishes for their success. They are, after all, the only people who know how to compromise. Without them the gridlock will only get worse.
Sherry Robinson
New Mexico News Service