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|Candidates take low road early|
Early voting is under way for the first of three elections on the newly revamped fall political calendar. It includes the return to closed party primaries for congressional races, status quo non-partisan primaries for local elections and confusion for some voters as to when they are supposed to go to the polls for what.
A general stupidity amnesty is hereby declared for any voters who ask poll commissioners next Saturday why they can't find Mary Landrieu or John Kennedy on their ballots. It's easy enough to be fooled, given that TV and radio commercials for and against the U.S. Senate candidates in the November election dominate the airwaves over other races to be decided in September and October. Not only the frequency of the Senate candidates' commercials but also their biting ferocity seem more characteristic of the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign, instead of just the beginning.
Landrieu rushed through a couple of positive ads about what she's done for the state before launching broadsides on Kennedy, who had no choice but to respond in kind, thus driving the discourse of the early campaign straight toward the ditch.
"Is Landrieu scared or something?" the bartender asked the resident pundit. Why else would the incumbent begin attacking her challenger right out the box, when usually it's the other way around?
Landrieu may be running scared, as any sensible incumbent would, but she is not acting out of desperation. Indeed, if there is anything she should be scared of, it's the desperation of Senate Republicans in a down year, whose only prospect for winning a Democratic seat is hers. Better to be scared now than on Halloween, four days before the vote.
Actually, Landrieu is going negative early from a position of strength--financial strength. In July, she reported twice as much campaign cash on hand as Kennedy had. So she has wasted no time in pressing her advantage by going on the attack, which makes him spend money defending himself instead of burnishing his image first.
Just when Kennedy debuted his first commercial--a sunny spot in which he brown-bags to work as a common-sense fiscal conservative--Landrieu hurled her first mud ball, reminding conservatives that Kennedy last ran for the Senate as a "liberal Democrat" and endorsed John Kerry for president. For the consumption of Democrats, her next ad blasted Kennedy's general support for allowing workers to privately invest part of their Social Security taxes, which Landrieu claimed would rob seniors of their benefits.
The first commercial was nothing new, the second was borderline nonsense. But Landrieu's ads matched Kennedy's more than spot for spot and seemed to have their intended effect. A recent independent Rasmussen Reports poll showed Landrieu's lead swelling to double digits, up from only a three-point spread reported by the same pollster the month before. The survey showed Kennedy's stock falling among both Republicans and Democrats.
Most observers doubt that Landrieu's lead is that large or more lasting than a bump from her opening volley. That bulge won't last now that Kennedy and the Republicans have caught their balance and have begun returning fire. His latest ad accuses Landrieu of voting to grant Social Security benefits to illegal aliens, which is no more true than her ad scaring retirees into thinking Kennedy's plan will have them all eating dogfood.
This is just the prelude. Once a campaign turns nasty, there usually is no turning back. Not only are the candidates bound to continue hostilities, but the national parties and third-party groups will be piling on sooner rather than later.
Some fall debates, which the challenger naturally wants more of and the incumbent less, might provide a spirited, civil discussion of the issues. That should take up two or three hours. Beyond that, the despairing voter can expect more of the same TV commercials, except worse, for the next ten weeks.
No one thought this race would end on the high road, so it works for Landrieu to go negative now before voters get to know Kennedy better. Even if she winds up as bruised as he, it's to her advantage for voters to perceive too little difference between the two to be roused to make a change. Happy viewing.