9NEWS reports that outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper is terribly upset about the “negative campaigning” in the Democratic gubernatorial primary to succeed him–this being the second such admonishment from Hickenlooper, after a PAC supporting Cary Kennedy “went negative” attacking two of her opponents for their stands on education:
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) says allies of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis went “below the belt” by using his image in an attack ad against fellow Democrat Cary Kennedy.
“Seeing my face used in a negative ad after I had pretty clearly stated what I thought about it, I thought that was hitting below the belt,” Hickenlooper said in a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol. “I didn’t think it was fair.”
9NEWS asked him about an ad from an outside spending group called “Bold Colorado,” which accurately quoted Gov. Hickenlooper as saying he was “disappointed” by a previous attack made by a similar spending group intending to help Kennedy.
Early on in the governor’s race, all Democratic candidates signed a voluntary pledge to avoid “unnecessary personal and negative attacks” against one another. The “violations” of this pledge have so far, and this is an important point, generally not been carried out by the candidates themselves–rather by “independent” message groups that are legally prohibited from coordinating with the candidate they support. That makes these calls for candidates to “put a stop” to ads being run by independent groups either disingenuous or a tacit admission that there is no real separation between PACs and candidates.
The latter seems to be the case for Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, whose SuperPAC was openly supported and pitched by the candidate before he was technically in the race. Democratic candidates should keep this in mind as it could be an important issue in the general election–and avoid opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy if it does.
Which leads us to the most important point: the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, in any objective sense, isn’t all that “negative.” The Clean Campaign Pledge signed by Democratic candidates obliges them to refrain from “unnecessary personal and negative attacks.” But is an ad outlining the candidates’ records on a key issue like education really “unnecessary?” We’d say that’s exactly what campaign ads should be about. Debating education policy isn’t something you would call “personal,” not in the manner of (for example) GOP gubernatorial candidate Victor Mitchell’s acrimonious attacks on Stapleton’s Bush family lineage.
In the end, there’s more hand-wringing going on about the notion of “going negative” in this race than there is, well, anyone actually going negative. Tame issue-based exchanges like what we’re seeing between the Democratic candidates on education do not a “smear campaign” make. Not even close. And even if it was, it isn’t the candidates doing it.
This is why we’ve been here since 2004, folks. To help keep this perennial silliness in perspective.