Monday, October 20, 2008

Negative Campaigning Costing Votes in County Executive Race?!?

Supporters of Calvin Goings (D) have been blasting fellow Democrat Pat McCarthy for receiving the endorsement of the Master Builders Association in their race for Pierce County Executive. Some Goings supporters are going so far as to recommending McCarthy be the fourth choice in this Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) election. In most political races going negative is a winning strategy. This negative campaign strategy is not likely to help elect a Democrat.

In RCV elections, the winner is required to receive a majority of the votes. In this particular race, there are four candidates: Shawn Bunney, the Republican; Mike Lonergan, running under the Executive Excellence banner; Goings and McCarthy. Voters are allowed to list their first, second and third choices. It is quite unlikely that Goings will receive a majority of the first choices in this race. As a result, to win he will need second and third choices from voters who support other candidates as their first choice. Democrats Al Rose and Carolyn Merrival face a similar situation in the County Council, District 2 race.

Since the Democrats have two candidates in both the County Executive race and the County Council, District 2 race, the county party is working to raise money for an ad campaign encouraging voters to cast both their first and second choices in these two races for Democrats. In the County Council race, Merrival and Rose have endorsed each other as their respective second choices. Should voters follow their endorsements, one of the Democrats will likely carry that seat despite a strong Republican candidate in State Rep. Joyce McDonald. Cooperative campaigning by Democrats can occur and is likely to protect a traditionally Democratic seat on the County Council.

Goings' attacks on McCarthy are likely to lead some voters who select McCarthy as their first choice to select either Bunney or Lonergan as their second and third choices. Indeed, out on the campaign trail we have heard the phrase "Anybody But Calvin" (ABC). On the blogs, there are people recommending McCarthy as first choice, Bunney as second choice and Lonergan as third choice. Now, this is pretty negative as well. But it sounds, at least partially, like a reaction to the negative campaigning of Goings' supporters.

This leads one to speculate that some of the ABC adherents are turned off by Goings' negative campaigning and are voting for the other candidates as a response. If this effect is widespread, then it could cost Goings votes and maybe the election.

The dynamics of RCV elections are somewhat different from the dynamics of Top 2 elections. In the race for Governor, the two candidates have gone heavily negative and each believes it will help them to get elected. In this County Executive race, going negative may be costing candidates votes.

If Rose or Merrival wins the Second District County Council seat and Bunney wins the County Executive seat, we will wonder if the negative campaigning of Goings cost the Democrats this seat.

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At 9:28 AM, Blogger RAC said...

I had hoped that the Democrat Party of Pierce County would have played a bigger role in educating both the candidates and the electorate about the best way to approach an RCV race.

In San Francisco, where RCV is also used, we have seen candidates in the same race holding joint campaign events. Perhaps the animosity between some of the candidates makes that unlikely here in Pierce, at least this year. Hopefully this won't be a pattern.

Regardless of the personality conflicts of the candidates the Democratic Party should have done a better job of educating voters to use both of their top rankings to support their candidates. I should say especially because of the conflicts. When some Democrats are saying that another Democrat should be ranked last, the party needs to step up and aggressively deal with the problem.

The message from the party should have been:
Rank Goings first and McCarthy second.
Rank McCarthy first and Goings second.

Of course many voters don't vote a party line and this advice won't matter to them. But this is a good year to be a Democrat and a clear message from the party would have had an impact on a substantial voting bloc.

I hope the tepid response to this issue doesn't cost the Democrats too dearly. I think the party deserves credit for giving the voters more choices.

Rich Anderson-Connolly


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