Direct Mail: Still a Key Part of Trashing the Opposition in Legislative Races

Do you know candidates for the Tennessee Legislature who would let rapists pack pistols, allow bridges to crumble and treat taxpayer dollars as as “a personal slush fund?”
The state Democratic and Republican parties claim to know them. And they are passing on the information in scores of direct mail advertisements that are flooding mailboxes across the state as a key part of the war for control of the General Assembly.
Voters are advised of candidates with bankruptcy and drunken driving in their past. There’s a Democratic incumbent living a “lavish lifestyle” in Nashville while citizens suffer and a Republican incumbent who wants Tennessee to become a dumping ground for nuclear waste.
One Democratic challenger has the motto “greed is good” and there’s a Republican challenger who likes to sue poor people over as little as $34.
Or so the mailers say. Sometimes the factual basis for political charges via direct mail is, at best, somewhat tenuous.
A review of the mailers also indicates that many candidates favor illegal immigration and higher taxes. They are prone to lying.
They take money from questionable sources – an anti-war protester who “specializes in riots,” for example, not to mention the “job-killing special interests who are funneling money to Washington, D.C. politicians and bankrupting our country.”
Republicans point out that virtually all Democrats legislators hang out with Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, helpfully providing pictures of candidates with the Washington duo. But for some reason, Democrats never mention the two in their mailers.
A recurring Democratic theme – notably against Republicans living within commuting distance of Nashville – is acceptance of the $185 per day automatic legislative expense allowance when they have no motel expense.
Of course, there are also multiple mailers of party-favored candidates posing with smiling children and declaring the candidate’s passion for better education, more jobs and Second Amendment rights. In such mailers, all candidates seem to dislike taxes – especially a state income tax – and illegal immigration.
But attack mail seems a primary focus for both parties.

In the age of the Internet, direct mail remains a mainstay of campaigns at the state legislative level. The reasons are fairly obvious, said state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester and Republican Chairman Chris Devaney in interviews.
First of all, it is cheaper than broadcast advertising, the focus in larger-scale campaigns for Congress and governor. Campaign disclosures filed by the parties indicates the average direct mail piece to all voters in a state House race costs an average of around $6,000. Production costs alone for a TV ad can run that much or more, before the expense of buying air time.
Internet ads are cheaper, but many households still don’t have a computer and those that do may never see the ads. A mailer at least gets a glance from someone.
Further, direct mail can be targeted using voter databases maintained by the parties. A mailer can be directed, for example, to those prone to vote for one party or the other, to senior citizens or to holders of handgun carry permits.
Both parties, too, have a policy of taking total control over their direct mail, allowing political professionals to decide how to best help a candidate – even over the objections of the candidate.
In Knoxville’s Senate District 7 race, for example, both Republican Stacey Campfield and Democrat Randy Walker have been targeted by party attack mailers. Both say they would not have approved the attack pieces against their opponents.
The text of a Democratic party mailer has a picture of a man, a pistol in his waistband, looking at children on a playground.
“Extreme Legislator Stacey Campfield’s got a dangerous idea: let anyone carry a concealed gun. No matter who. No matter what they’ve been convicted of…. Think about it, rapists or even child sex predators would be free to carry concealed weapons at schools, churches, daycare centers or playground. On Nov. 2, Disarm Campfield,” says the text on one side.
On the other, in large type, is the question, “Who’s more dangerous.. a convicted rapist or a state Senate candidate who’d make it legal for one to carry a concealed gun.”
Campfield says the mailer is “almost laughable.” It is based, Forrester said, on Campfield stating that he would favor allowing people to carry handguns without a state-issued permit, as required in Tennessee. Forrester says that means a felon – at least one with his rights restored – could carry a gun. Campfield says that’s not the case and, at any rate, federal law prohibits felons from gun ownership.
Separate Republican attacks on Walker have pointed out his past bankruptcy and, most recently, called him a liar who is supported by questionable funding.
The most recent mailer has a headline declaring, “Money never lies… but Randy Walker does.” It says Walker has taken “anti-war rioter dollars” as well as money from “liberal trial lawyers,” “big labor,” and “income tax champions.”
The anti-war rioter is identified as “University of Tennessee professor John Bohstedt, an anti-war protester who the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported ‘specializes in riots’.” Bohstedt gave Walker $550, records show.
The full sentence in the referenced 2007 News Sentinel story, which deals with a complaint Bohstedt filed against a police officer who gave him a ticket at a protest against the Iraq war: “The group included Bohstedt, a history professor who specializes in riots and how police respond to them.”
Bohstedt, now retired, researched riots – mostly in Europe centuries ago – as history scholar and was not himself a rioter. He also made the news as one of those who grabbed and subdued a man shooting people at a Unitarian Church.
“I think that’s a low blow to come in and take a private citizens and throw him into the race,” said Walker, who said he was also dismayed at the “flat-out lie” in another GOP mailer that said supports abortion rights when he is pro-life.
Here is a sampler of some other political mailings in legislative races:
-A Republican attack on House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh says he “chooses only the best for himself, while Tennessee gets whatever is left over.” There’s a picture of a filet mignon to illustrated Naifeh’s dining; a pile of gnawed bones for what’s left over. The text further states that “”Jimmy ‘Nashville’ Naifeh is used to his lavish lifestyle…. Spends thousands of dollars at fancy steakhouses while the rest of Tennessee struggles to provide for their families.”
-A Democratic attack on Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, says, “When 100,000 Italians said ‘No’ to their own nuclear waste, Joe Carr said, ‘Bring it to Tennessee’.” Kerr is also criticized in another mailer for supposedly taking a longer route to drive from home to Nashville, making him eligible for a tax break. “When Joe Carr goes the etra mile… it’s for himself,” says the ad.
-A Republican attack on James Hale, the Democrat opposing Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, attributes to him in quotation marks the phrases “Greed is Good” and “Greed Works.” The ad says Hale, while serving on the board of directors of a small telephone cooperative, voted to transform it into a for-profit company – with each director getting 500 shares of stock at the outset.
-A Democratic attack on Dennis Powers, the Republican nominee in House District 36, focuses on a DUI arrest. “Dennis Powers just loves to tell other people how to live,” says the text, “”Here’s what officers had to say about Dennis Powers.” It then quotes snippets from a police account of his 1984 arrest.
-A Republican mailer against octogenarian Rep. George Fraley, D-Winchester, may be one of the gentlest attacjs, “George Fraley is a good man, but he’s lost touch with us,” it says at the outset. The text goes on to call him “a tax and spend politician” and list five votes said to justify the claim.
-A Democratic attack on furniture store owner Bill Sanderson, the GOP nominee facing Rep. Judy Barker, D-Union City, says he is “charging sky high interest rates, excessive fees and tying up our court system with over 120 lawsuits against his own customers.” The text says he is a millionaire who has filed lawsuits for as little as $34.
-A Republican attack on Larry Mullins, Democratic nominee in House District 10, is perhaps the most aggressive in trying to link a candidate to Obama and Devaney cites it as one of his favorite. Mullins served as an alternative delegate to the 2008 Democratic convention. The mailer pictures the two men together and proclaims them “a team guaranteed to kill jobs in Tennessee.” The party has also erected a billboard in Morristown with pictures of Mullins and Obama.
–A Democratic attack on Weaver says the Republican incumbent voted against legislation “to fix our bridges” then “lied about it.” There’s a picture of a dilapidated bridge with a “closed” sign in front of it, another of Weaver smirking and a third of a woman holding her hands behind her back with her fingers crossed.

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