Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

More than a decade ago, a resident walked into a Kansas City, Kan., newsroom and complained, “Why is all the news so negative?”

The editor at the time disagreed with the statement. The news is not all negative, he told him. He took the latest copy of the newspaper and a ruler, and measured the news columns in the paper. As it turned out, there was more positive than negative news on the front page, as shown by the number of column inches allotted to each story. The same was true for the rest of the paper, as well.

The reader had only been looking at the negative headlines, not the positive stories about another resident who won an award, or about some new program being launched that would help the community. Clearly, the news was not all negative. But the reader was drawn to the negative news, leading him to think it was all negative.

Currently, we are in the last seven days before the Nov. 4 election, and it has been, in my opinion, a very negative campaign especially with negative direct mail and television ads. The negative campaigning has been commented upon widely by many persons in both public and private conversations. Just like the reader’s complaint about negative news, negative advertising is also one of perception, with a lot of positive messages not getting too much of our attention. People say they hate the negative ads, but those ads get their attention.

Let’s take a look at these issues covered by the negative ads. The negative ads make it seem like it’s terrible, but is it? They haven’t unearthed very much new information, nor very much valuable information. They’re all pretty lame. Some of them are from outside groups that often are not even in Kansas. They point out:

• According to negative ads, the incumbent Republican governor’s economic policies have failed, and his campaign finance has ties to very conservative donors. Tell us something we didn’t already know.

• One negative ad pounding the airwaves says that the Democratic candidate for governor as a young single man once went to a strip club, at his employer’s request while working as an attorney for the club, where there was a topless dancer. So what?

• Another attack ad on the Democratic candidate for governor tries to link him to decisions of the Kansas Supreme Court, when he was not part of the decisions for those cases. While it calls their decisions liberal, in my opinion, in looking at many, many case summary opinions involving Wyandotte County cases for the past few years, the Supreme Court most of the time has upheld the convictions from here and has been pretty tough. The ad is misleading.

• The incumbent U.S. representative, 3rd District, a Republican, went skinny-dipping in 2011 in the Sea of Galilee, a negative ad points out. Big deal.

• A campaign postcard shows a lot of bad photos of the Democratic candidate for the U.S. representative, 3rd District position, along with saying she voted for tax increases, included in the state budget, while she was in the state Legislature. That ad tells me they couldn’t find anything negative about her.

• One negative ad points out that the incumbent U.S. senator is old and is mostly in Washington, D.C. Besides being age discrimination, gee, what did you expect?

• The independent U.S. Senate candidate, according to a negative ad, is really like a Democrat and is not as conservative as the Republican candidate. It tries to link him to Obama. Like most people in Wyandotte County, I would ask, what’s wrong with that? Obama may have received only 38 percent of the vote in Kansas in 2012, but he received 67 percent of the vote in Wyandotte County. Hmmm, only time will tell what the independent candidate will do, but that Democrat label will appeal to a lot of people in Wyandotte County.

I would advise voters not to consider any of the negative ads. Instead, find the candidates’ positions on issues that are important to you. Then try to match your views on your important issues with those of the candidate’s. Forget any of the personal ad hominem attacks – they don’t matter at all. None of this stuff in the attack ads is enough reason to vote against someone.

What the negative ads really say to me is that the candidate is behind in some of the polls and has been advised to go negative to try to catch up to the other candidate.

The bombardment of negative campaign ads these last few weeks also has inspired me to think of some ways for you to deal with it.

Here are some tips for getting through the negative campaign season:

1. Boots and raincoats went on sale at some stores this past week. Gear up for the mudslinging.

2. The television set has an off switch. Use it. Look into starting your own online webcasts on your own website where you don’t allow negative ads.

3. Temporarily tape or DVR your favorite program, then watch it later, fast-forwarding through the ads.

4. Watch only Channel 19 or old movie channels that have no ads until after the election.

5. File the campaign mailers away immediately in your wastebasket.

6. Go out and meet the candidates in person when they come to Wyandotte County.

7. Check candidates’ websites or social media sites for a response to negative ads. Don’t accept the negative ads at face value. Don’t let them sell you the candidates like they sell a bar of soap.

8. Some candidates may be hoping that you get so tired of the negativity that you will stay home and not vote. Don’t let that happen. Remember, this election needs the votes of everyone, not just a few fanatics, to determine the future of the state and nation.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

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Window on the West
by Mary Rupert

Voters may be tired of the barrage of negative campaign ads in Kansas, but it’s not likely that they will stop before the election, according to one knowledgeable observer.

As polls showed two key Republicans in the state were trailing in several polls, negative ads have been filling the Kansas airwaves.

Patrick Miller, assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas, said other than two Republicans at the top of the ticket in Kansas being in trouble in the polls, there’s not a lot of unifying themes in the elections this year.

Looking at the averages of the polls, Miller said for the most part they are showing Democratic challenger Paul Davis leading Republican Gov. Sam Brownback by four to five points, while independent candidate Greg Orman is leading Republican Sen. Pat Roberts six to seven points. While there are some polls that show different results, Miller said he had some questions about some of those polls’ methodology. Recently, a CNN poll and a Fox news poll showed different results — closer races for the candidates.

The reasons for the two incumbents trailing are different, Miller said.

Governor’s race

Miller noted that there had been fairly regular polling on Brownback’s approval rating over time, and the first time he went into the negative job approval territory was November of 2011. “He’s been in negative territory ever since,” Miller said.

“He’s the fourth most unpopular governor in the country right now,” Miller said. “For Brownback to be polling this low is remarkable.”

Miller said he thinks what has been reflected in these polls is a public reaction to Brownback’s policies, particularly the tax issue and what happened to state revenues as a result of it. Also important were education spending and the debate about it. There was uncertainty in Kansas about job prospects and the quality of life, as well, he said.

The education issue has been interesting, with both candidates making contradictory claims. They are both accurate and telling the truth, Miller said, it’s just how they cut the numbers.

Davis has been focusing on looking at the cuts of state aid to classrooms. He said Brownback’s administration had the largest cut in state aid to classrooms in the state history. That is true, Miller said.

Brownback has come back and said he’s spending more on education than ever. That’s also true, Miller said. Brownback’s numbers include everything from new furniture for schools to interest paid for capital construction of schools. Including everything, education spending has gone up, he said.

“That’s something that may be confusing to voters,” he added. “Voters have heard a lot about education cuts.”

Voters already associate education cuts with Brownback, he said. This is an area where mainstream and centrist Republicans do not agree with more conservative elements of the Republican Party. “Good public schools are something they want to be associated with,” he said.

In the past few decades, the two parties have become more polarized, and those elected have tended to become more ideological as time goes on, he added.

“A year ago this had a potential to be a competitive race,” Miller said. “So it’s not surprising that he’s in a tough re-election. I think the story here is he’s overreached in terms of his policies, and I think that resonates if you look in election polling. About Kansas, we’re more a Republican than we are a conservative state. Kansas Republicans are more ideologically diverse than Republicans nationally.”

A negative ad about a strip club incident from 1998 came out about Davis this past month, but it has not dented Davis’s numbers, Miller believes. He added he could not see where that story and ad had hurt Davis. While some independent voters liked Davis less, it had not changed their vote intentions, as only about a 1 percent change could be seen in the polls, he added.

“This election isn’t about Paul Davis, this election is about Brownback,” Miller said. Polls are showing the public doesn’t like Brownback and the job he’s doing, he said. The polls show Kansans disapprove of the job Obama is doing more than Brownback, but they like Obama more than Brownback, he added.

“He’s a known quality that the public has passed a judgment on, and there are enough in the middle who are looking for an alternative and have made up their minds they don’t want to send him back to the governor’s mansion,” he said.

If re-elected, Brownback will most likely continue with his policies on taxation and education, Miller said. If Davis is elected, the big question will be the Legislature, Miller said, as Republicans hold super majorities in the Legislature. Individual legislators, for example, in Johnson County would face the question of what message were the voters sending? If enough Republicans backtrack on Brownback’s policies, Davis may be able to make policy changes. If not, they may just stonewall Davis for four years. Individual legislators would have to determine whether they would be at risk of being on the chopping block next.

The independent and centrist voters whose votes may sway, don’t like the incumbents, such as Obama and Brownback, and they don’t like politics this year, Miller noted. They’re looking for something new.

“Brownback has the hard-core conservative base, and ironically so does Roberts, even though he had the Tea Party challenge,” Miller said. “The middle has abandoned Brownback and Roberts and are looking for alternatives.”

While Brownback’s problem is ideological, and has to do with his conservative governing, Roberts’ problems are probably not ideological, Miller said.

U.S. Senate seat

“Roberts’ problem is his personal brand, there’s a sentiment that he’s out of touch,” Miller said.

In a governor’s race poll in October 2013, when everyone knew that Brownback was in trouble, 41 percent of Kansans had no opinion on Roberts’ job approval, Miller said.

“For a freshman senator new to D.C. that would be remarkable,” Miller said. “For Roberts, in office since 1996, that is just remarkable.”

Current polls show that the number who don’t have an opinion about Roberts is down to 20 percent, and job approval ratings have gone from net positive to net negative, he said. The disapproval rate is 17 points higher than the approval rate.

“If Roberts wins this election, he will be the most unpopular senator in the last three cycles to actually win a race,” Miller said, adding that was a reference to the entire Senate.

“Roberts’ issue is his personal brand,” Miller said. Whatever he has done for Kansas, voters are not seeing it. There’s an issue with voters’ perception that he doesn’t live in Kansas, an issue that came up in the primary election concerning his primary address, a rental property in Dodge City.

Miller also believes that when the Roberts campaign rested for about a month after the primary, it gave an opening to the Orman campaign to move forward. It’s Miller’s opinion that Democrat Chad Taylor, who dropped out of the race, didn’t have much money, and was hoping that primary challenger Milton Wolf would win against Roberts.

Orman was doing better in the polls, and also had more campaign funding available. Orman has exploited the weaknesses in the incumbent’s campaign, Miller believes.

“His image resonated with dissatisfied voters in Kansas, who are also dissatisfied with Brownback,” Miller said. “They don’t like incumbents, and don’t like Roberts.”

Over a half-million dollars in negative ads attacking Orman and portraying him as a liberal Democrat haven’t moved the polls, Miller said.

“For me, the bottom line is undecideds don’t like either of the incumbents and they are in demographic groups leaning to Davis and Orman right now,” Miller said.

At this point, Miller said he doesn’t know of any issues for either candidate that could change this. He believes the strongest negative issues have already been brought forth in advertising, the strip club attack ad and the closet Democrat attack ad.

Usually, 90 percent of a party’s members vote for their party’s candidate. In this election, according to current polls, both Davis and Orman are getting 30 percent of the Republican vote, he said.

Campaign finance reports in the Roberts-Orman race indicate that a half-million has been spent by outside Republican groups to attack Orman since the primary ended, and about $1 million to support Roberts. Orman probably will not get much outside funding, so the question is whether Orman will start self-funding, Miller said.

“If voters have made up their minds, a lot of outside spending is not going to get them to change their minds,” Miller believes. He does expect negative advertising to continue until the election.

U.S. House, 3rd District
Voter dissatisfaction with two top Republicans may not have spread to the 3rd District race.

Miller said the contest for the U.S. House, 3rd District, between incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder and Democrat Kelly Kultala is more difficult to get a clear picture of since there has not been that much independent polling. Most of the polls are from the candidates themselves.

“Kelly Kultala had a series of polls showing her getting closer to Yoder, who had an 8-point lead in July in one of her polls,” Miller said. He added he always wants to see candidate polls supplemented with outside polling, and he has not seen any outside polling for the 3rd District.

Kultala has made some waves with her attack ad on Yoder, he said. The negative ad pictured a swimming pool and made a reference to a skinny-dipping incident in Yoder’s past, while discussing how funds have been stripped from certain programs.

Miller said this 3rd District contest is a question mark for him. He hasn’t seen a lot coming from Yoder in ads, which may mean the incumbent thinks he’s secure and might not take risks.

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Dear editor,

I was not born in Kansas, but have chosen to live here for more than a decade because of the good people and quality of life.

Unfortunately, I see some disturbing trends in my adopted state. Thanks largely to a misguided crusade against income taxes, the state now comes up millions of dollars short in revenue each month. Both Moody’s and Standard and Poor have downgraded the state’s credit rating.

However, my greatest concern is an erosion in the quality of education. School districts are financially strapped, leaning heavily on local property taxes and new fees to make ends meet. Parents I know say their children’s classroom sizes have grown considerably. And, school districts are now allowed to hire people without an education degree to teach certain subjects. This is not right.

Historically, education has been a high priority in Kansas, and that must never change. This shared value transcends our differences and makes our state stronger.

Kansas needs a new direction, and that is why I am voting for Paul Davis for governor. I ask Kansas voters to cast their ballot and choose candidates who will preserve and restore the quality of education our children deserve.


Marge Gasnick
Kansas City, Kan.

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