I don't remember the last time, if ever, I saw this many contested primaries on the same ballot here locally. And I have never, not even in 2008, seen this much campaign literature not just mailed, but actually dropped off in person, in the low-cost apartment complex I live in. Some people are going to unusual lengths to get my vote this year.
Here are two door-hangers that were dropped off on my apartment door in the last week or so:
Bad Example: On the front: "Democrat Doug Clemens for State Representative District 77. (Paid for by the Commission to Elect Doug Clemens. Beatrice Buder Clemens, CPA, Treasurer.)" On the back: "Vote Aug 3rd. Doug will ... ¶ Bring good jobs to the area that pay a living wage. ¶ Fight for affordable healthcare for all Missourians. ¶ Help our seniors by protecting Medicare. ¶ Work to improve schools to give our children and grandchildren the education they need. ¶ Jobs Healthcare Education ¶ Find out more about Doug's campaign by visiting http://dougclemens.com or feel free to call the campaign office at (314) 423-1840."
Good Example: On the front: "Calloway for State Senate." On the back: "Dear Mr. Hicks: ¶ I am sorry that I missed you. I stopped by to let you know that I am a candidate for the Missouri State Senate in the August 3rd Democratic Primary and to discuss any political issues that are important to your family. ¶ During my time as your State Representative, I fought for affordable health care coverage for Missouri families and helped working families protect their right to bargain collectively and earn equal pay. As a concerned parent, I worked to bring new opportunities for our kids to the Public School District. As your neighbor, I led the fight to clean up corruption in the Ambulance and Fire District. As a family man, I have enjoyed being a dedicated husband and father to my smart wife and adorable kid. ¶ I will be back again, because I very much ope to earn your support on August 3rd. In the meantime, feel free to contact me at 678-6866 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my website, callowayforsenate.com for more information. ¶ Don Calloway ¶ Paid for by Citizens for Don Calloway, Jonell Y. Calloway, Treasurer."
What's wrong with the bad example? Let's start with the little things. First of all, it always rubs me the wrong way when a candidate gives the treasurer job to a relative; how this is supposed to increase my confidence in my campaign donations, I have no idea. Somewhat more seriously, the literature tells me absolutely nothing about the candidate's relevant experience. Even if he's never stood for elected office before (it is a state legislature lower-house gig, one of the traditional entry points in politics), it's traditional to tell people what your job or career is. That he doesn't is a bad sign. But the deal breaker, the one that tells me not to even consider the candidate, is that the campaign slogans are 100% certified content-free and meaning-free. They are designed to persuade the maximum number of people that the candidate would vote the way they want, without actually telling them which way the candidate would vote.
How does "Doug" (I also hate excessive familiarity, like candidates who campaign under their first name, but that's another nit) intend to "bring good jobs" -- by more corporate welfare, or by tax cuts that have to be paid for by screwing the schools and the hospitals and costing them jobs, or by supporting jobs programs? What's his idea of fighting for "affordable healthcare"? Republican-style "medical savings accounts" and further deregulation of the insurance companies, or additional taxpayer support for hospitals and doctors? Which is his preferred idea for "improving schools?" Breaking yet another union and shutting down the public schools and expanding for-profit charter schools and teaching to the test, or returning classroom autonomy to the teacher and pressuring parents to do a better job of supporting their kids' teachers and preparing their kids for school, including increased support for childhood nutrition for the poor? Whichever side you're on on any of those three issues, the design of this flier tells me that "Doug" wants you to "know" (or at least imagine) that he's on your side of the debate (and half of you will have been misled).
What's right with the bad example? Well, okay, he does give a url. Big whoop.
What's wrong with the good example? Well, I have that same nitpick about appointing a family member as a campaign treasurer. Also, if I were a campaign consultant, I'd be being paid to tell him that "wall of text" is a bad way to make a good first impression, but frankly, I count this one more in his favor than against him. This is, to my taste, how you campaign to Democrats this far in advance of a Democratic primary: take actual stands. Which brings me to the things that are refreshing about it.
This is not the world's best time to be a pro-union Democrat. All the campaign contributions are running the other way. So, for that matter, are a lot of Democratic voters, who spent the whole 70s and 80s being told, not just by Holy Saint Ronald Reagan the Infallible Savior of The Free World but also by the press, and after Bill Clinton even being told by their own party, that unions were the reason for the stagflation of the 1970s. (Which is, frankly, a lie; stagflation had a lot more to do with OPEC than with PATCO, and its end had a lot more to do with the Camp David accords than with Alan Greenspan.) That he's standing up and in the first issues paragraph on his flier reminding us that he stood up for (if memory serves?) the nurses union when a local hospital chain was trying to break the union is not a stance he can count on to make his campaign well financed. It happens, however, to be the exact right stance for me. He also stands up for the local (frankly, neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad) public school district, at a time when both Democrats and Republicans are lining up to bash the teachers' unions and sing the (thoroughly scientifically discredited and therefore non-existent) praises of the charter schools and of teaching to the test. By putting this flier on random Democrats' doors, he may cost himself some campaign contributions from the charter school owners and employees, and a few Democrat In Name Only votes.
Good. This man is standing up for the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He's got my vote on August 3rd.
Oh, you notice what else is different about the two handbills, by the way? One of them promises to achieve things. The other promises to stand up for principles. People, even if both of these guys get elected in November, they're both going to be freshmen legislators in a famously dysfunctional and heavily seniority-dominated state legislature. Don Calloway also gets bonus points for me, and "Doug" loses those same points, because Calloway, unlike "Doug," isn't letting his mouth write checks that his ass can't cash.
(P.S. I am going to support Calloway despite the fact that his flier does share one flaw with the other flier, one that I'm dangerously close to single-issue on. He doesn't take a position on taxes. I am very nearly single-issue on one stand, here in Missouri: income taxes are too damned low, and so is the cigarette tax, both of them among the lowest in the nation, and both of them the real reason that the state went completely bankrupt when consumer spending dipped due to the Bush/Obama recession. Any candidate who stands up for raising the state's pathetically low cigarette and/or income taxes gets my automatic endorsement this year, quite possibly no matter what else he's wrong on. But the realist in me is hard-pressed to fault a candidate for declining to introduce himself by standing up for higher taxes; not even in a lower working class district like this one.)