What Happened to Clean Campaigns?

Before the advent of television, radio and the Internet, political candidates had to attack their opponents in person, and largely on the issues important to voters. Mud-slinging and ad-hominem attacks happened, but on a much less visual and overwhelming level. In the Virginia governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) have launched all-out assaults on each other through TV ads and emails to supporters. Much of the correspondence between supporters and candidates attacks the opposition with ad hominem arguments instead of taking up the issues.

Both campaigns have launched ads attacking their opponents for a whole slew of things: bad business decisions, stances on divorce law and the other’s trustworthiness. Few ads from either campaign let viewers know the stance the candidate has on a specific issue. The spots are jargon-y, filled with vague language that doesn’t really explain why this candidate is a better choice than the other candidates. One would hope emails from the campaigns would better explain the candidate’s stances on issues that are important to voters. Nope. The emails received at the Virginia Vibe have had just as many ad hominem attacks as the TV spots. The only stinging difference between the TV ads and the emails received is that the emails often solicit money.

The only candidate that seems to be campaigning on the issues is Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate from Fairfax, Va.  The Virginia Vibe does not receive any emails from Sarvis. However, Sarvis’s TV ad that premiered during the gubernatorial debate Tuesday – a definite slap in the face to the powers that be deciding who debates – is the only TV ad to feature the issues.

Not to be overly cynical, but who knows if Sarvis’s ad is issues-based because he doesn’t have the clout to attack Cuccinelli and McAuliffe now? Sarvis is definitely not the biggest dog in this fight.

As far as the major two parties are concerned, neither Cuccinelli nor McAuliffe is winning the race for issues-based campaigning. The Virginia governor’s race is a dirty, mud-slinging example of American politics in the 2010s. The race for votes is still tight – at last report, McAuliffe led by less than 10 percent – so it’s probable Virginians will continue to see more ad hominem TV ads from candidates. Is it right? No. Is it fair? Probably not. Is it the way of American politics? It’s looking like it.

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