Johnny Come Lately
The contest for New Hampshire governor got a little bit more interesting last week with the entrance of Republican John Stephen into the race. Republicans believe they have their strongest candidate to go up against Gov. John Lynch (assuming he runs) in several election cycles. Oddly enough, the reaction from local Democrats seems to be, well, glee. While it is true that Stephen’s announcement means that state Democrats will now be forced to spend more than a token amount of attention focused on getting Lynch reelected (which still appears likely), they seem especially primed for this particular fight with Stephen, in a way that feels more personal than your typical partisan conflict.
There are two ways that partisan operatives often go after their political opponents. The first is to claim that prior experience demonstrates that the individual is incompetent to govern. The second line of attack is to suggest that the opponent has been untrustworthy in his dealings with other political actors and the public. This latter charge is considered more serious among campaign professionals, as it speaks to the candidate’s moral character and intent.
Why does the Democratic response to Stephen’s candidacy strike me as a bit more personal than usual? I note that in just one recent New Hampshire Democratic Party press release, in addition to hitting the incompetence theme repeatedly, the release uses some version of the word untrustworthiness no fewer than six times (and implies it several more). So, the Democratic attack is not simply that Stephen is unprepared to govern, but that he can’t be trusted to govern. As any veteran political observer knows, questioning a candidate’s motivations is the quickest way to make an electoral conflict personal. In this case, the NHDP seems especially eager to do just that.


Posted On: 03-09-2010 07:14:14 by Jim Splaine
Good observations, Dean. I do think that while "some Democrats," as you observe, would like to make this race personal, many do not. It would be so nice to return to the politics of respect -- well, "return" might not be the best word, since history shows politics has for centuries been mighty disrespectful, but it would be so nice to make it respectful. The people deserve that. I, for one, like John Stephen personally. I don't agree with much of his politics, but I remember him as a young pup visiting the State Senate when I was part of that body with his Dad, Bobby Stephen. Long time ago, but I've seen him through the years as his career has developed and continued to be impressed with his passion -- which regardless of your politics or philosophy shows commitment to the causes you believe in -- an politics is, at its baseline, mostly opinion. John Lynch has been a good Governor, and is head and shoulders above his opponents. November is a long, long time from now, and anything can happen -- today's 20 percent margin in polls can dissolve quickly in today's climate. We need to focus on issues and substance, accomplishments and positions. THAT is the way for John Lynch, and Democrats, to do well this November -- not by demeaning the opposition or attacking our opponents on just the negatives. Those of us who are Democrats can do that without making it personal, and while bringing respect to the process.

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