Like cigarettes, booze or Russian Roulette, it is almost assured that too much of a bad thing will kill you.
At least that’s the hope of Art Helton – political dinosaur, Democratic kingmaker and frequent target of opponents looking to tank the campaigns of candidates with whom he is associated.
Over the weekend, Helton was again the main character in the latest in a string of negative advertisements and vicious smear campaign tactics targeting the candidates he and the New Harford Democratic Club are supporting in the Nov. 6 Aberdeen municipal election.
It took an 11th hour truce for Helton’s candidates to agree to participate in the FOP Lodge 128 candidates forum after the group learned someone planned to ambush mayoral candidate and Helton-friend Mike Bennett with allegations he cheated on a Maryland State Police promotion exam decades earlier.
There was the ultimately successful campaign to invalidate the candidacy of Helton’s handpicked city council candidate Steve Johnson. This was accomplished when Johnson, who apparently lives in both Aberdeen and Perryman, withdrew an injunction he filed, but his decision may have been fueled in part by a suspicious mailer sent by a suspiciously named group with the same mailing address as another pro-Johnson citizens group.
Just last weekend, a cARToon quite literally illustrated via caricature the alleged relationship between Helton (puppet master) and his candidates Bennett, Johnson and incumbent councilwoman Ruth Elliott (be-stringed puppets).
While admittedly hilarious (see Johnson’s pompadour), does the cartoon go too far? More to the point, is the cartoon the final straw in a campaign that was bitterly negative long before it was even officially underway? What I’m about to reveal is a fairly common political tactic which is actually remarkably sound, if not disingenuous at best
Five Steps To Winning An Election The Wrong Way
Step 1: Identify the enemy and expose his, her or their mistakes, missteps, misspellings or anything else they’ve ever done wrong.
Step 2: Find a vehicle or medium to perpetuate the exposition of those continuously exaggerated claims (hmmm…sound familiar?).
Step 3: Ring that bell until everyone within earshot not only knows of the purported wrongdoings, but can recite them on command – regardless of whether they believe them to be true.
Step 4: Drop several progressively extravagant bombshells on your opposition. These can be in the form of a recent misstep, a long forgotten ghost, a cartoon, or, and perhaps best of all, something entirely made up.
Step 5: Time your frenetic negativity to climax just before Election Day and then sit back and watch as a record number of voters, physically and emotionally sick after tasting months of venomous bickering, stay home. A low voter turnout, because everyone who cared has been burnt out or turned off, usually means the incumbents will stay in office. A high voter turnout (see the 2005 Aberdeen election and the December 2006 special election) usually means sweeping changes in City Hall.
There is a point, however, when continued venom has an unintended and in fact opposite effect. Those previously turned away by the distasteful sniping are newly empowered and emboldened to do something about it – to turn the tables and bite back at the snakes.
In the December 2006 referendum election to decide the fate of the Wetlands Golf Course property annexation, Aberdeen residents had too much of the tricks (‘Save the Wetlands’ signs, which should have more accurately read ‘Save the Wetlands Golf Course By Voting FOR The Annexation’ and 11th hour robo-calling). As the polls were closing that night, Wetlands ‘campaign manager’ Rommell Crabtree (wherefore art thou now?) salivated at the huge voter turnout and proclaimed the day would prove to be an incredible victory for the Wetlands team. He was as wrong as could be.
The late sneaky tactics inspired people sitting at home to get up off their asses and vote against the slippery Crabtree and his Wetlands teammates. The more venomous the attack, the stronger the backlash.
So here we are nearly a year later and once again being sickened and turned off from the Aberdeen election by a small group of dirty political cronies. My question is: Will history repeat itself?
Helton seems to think so.
“It is my read and also that of the folks going door to door that the negative stuff is so radical and off the wall that it is having the opposite effect of the [Mayor Fred] Simmons team intentions,” Helton wrote in an email.
“I’m sure we haven’t heard the last negative stuff from Simmons, [Simmons’ campaign and business partner Steve] Wright and the boys. If they hold true to form they will throw so much stuff out there at the last minute that the voters will again be repulsed at the obvious spending. Just like the annexation vote, where I believe the gap of the defeat widened as they spent more money. The voter can see this for what it is,” he continued.
Then again, when the venom is flying in this dangerous game of cobra vs. scorpion, who’s to know from which fang or stinger it originated?