Three months ago, if you wanted to see mudslinging in a political contest in Alabama, you had to look in the southeastern part of the state, at the competition in Alabama’s second congressional district for the Republican nomination.
The field seemingly ganged up on frontrunner Jeff Coleman to draw attention to a 2012 Department of Justice lawsuit against his company, Coleman Worldwide Moving. Coleman’s company allegedly overcharged the federal government to move military families abroad.
It was to no avail, as Coleman emerged as the top vote-getter earlier this month and is now in a runoff with former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise.
As that was unfolding, the race for Alabama’s first congressional district nod was much more cordial.
The field, then made up of Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, former State Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, State Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, military veteran John Castorani and restaurateur Wes Lambert, spent a lot of time together, would play pranks on one another and helped one another out in debate settings.
On March 3, Carl and Hightower walked away with the most votes, setting up a runoff. Since then, the contest for the GOP nod has taken on a much darker tone.
Hometown radio talker Sean Sullivan said the mood changed when Club for Growth Action, the federal super PAC associated with the Washington-based Club for Growth, entered into the mix with an ad hitting Carl.
Since then, it has escalated with the two going back and forth at each other.
“You wake up the day after Super Tuesday, and it goes rough very quickly,” Sullivan said. “Now, I will say a lot of this is coming from an outside source — Club for Growth, and their PAC, which is really going after Jerry Carl very hard. Of course, they’re siding for Bill Hightower, and Jerry Carl pushing back against Bill Hightower as much as he is pushing back against the ads that Club for Growth is running. You have Jerry Carl, and you have Bill Hightower. But in this play, you also have Club for Growth.”
Dirty politics in the age of the coronavirus may turn some away. Sullivan says he isn’t sure if it would even matter, given the country’s focus on the coronavirus threat.
“Will they even be paying attention like they had before?” he said. “I’m looking in my studio today, and the questions I’m getting asked is: Do you think the election is going to get postponed because of coronavirus? Even when they talk politics, it’s injected into the discussion of coronavirus.”
In the interim, Carl suspended his campaign advertising. He acknowledged his concern when asked if he was worried that negative politicking might turn people away from both he and his opponent.
“I always worry,” Carl said. “I’ve always run positive campaigns. This one has been very different because we’re fighting a totally different creature. It’s not two people running against one another. I almost feel like a David versus Goliath because there is so much money involved in it.”
Hightower insists his tack is a reactionary one, in that he was just responding to what has been put out.
“We had a good run,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be positive. But here’s the thing that happens when people just fabricate lies about you — you’ve got to respond. And sometimes, it appears negative. But, when they Photoshop images and say things that just aren’t true, you’ve got to respond to that and set the record straight. That’s what I am going to do.”
For electoral politics, these are rather strange circumstances for campaigns to navigate. The business community was not the only entity to be caught flat-footed by the speed at which the coronavirus situation deteriorated.
How do you gauge the mood of the public for the sake of a political election? Will people be angry at the government because of the circumstances? Or perhaps we are looking toward a coming-together moment, like post-9/11?
Keep in mind, the name of the game is to win an election, even if that contradicts doing the right thing. Campaigns are often amoral. Personnel are hired to get a ‘W,’ not perform something for the civic good.
The last global pandemic that resembled the COVID-19 outbreak came in 1918 with the so-called Spanish Flu.
In 1918, there was a midterm election that resulted in the House and the Senate swapping party-control — from Woodrow Wilson’s Democrats to Republicans. However, the nation was also in the throes of World War I, which might have had more to do with the change in power.
Democrats have a lot less to lose by going on the offensive. The worst-case scenario for them is they can make a bad call and go too negative and only lose the House of Representatives.
Republicans, however, have the Senate and White House and can be perceived to be too negative — or, dare I say it — too pro-Trump in the wake of an outbreak.
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