I’m potsting today’s column early. After all, let’s be honest. None of you are going to talk about anything but SCOTUS after 10:00.
Candidates for Congress and other higher offices tend to run on their records. At least, those that have them do. In the Republican primary contest to oppose Incumbent Congressman John Barrow, three of the four candidates have never held public office. Thus, they will be judged somewhat on their record of experience outside of politics.
But to understand how each would represent the citizens of Georgia 12 – a district that runs from Augusta in the North to Vidalia in the South and over to the outskirts of Savannah on the eastern side – each must be judged on their public statements and actions. Each statement, public answer to a question, campaign mailer, and advertisement is subject to scrutiny.
If the statements are consistent, then there is at least a clue that the candidate’s blank slate is being filled by someone who can stay on message during a campaign. The voter will then have to decide for him or herself if they believe the campaign promises match how the candidate will actually govern when in office.
If the candidate is inconsistent in these messages, however, trouble may arise early. The blank slate is then able to be filled by those paying attention with charges that a person is just saying the right words, but contradictory statements properly raise the question of what a candidate really means; of what the candidate really stands for beyond getting elected.
Jim Collins, Chairman of the Toombs County Republican Party as well as a member of the 12th District and State GOP Executive Committees called out the campaign of Maria Sheffield in an email distributed to other executive committee members and campaigns Wednesday evening. In it, he called out Kathryn Ballou, Sheffield’s campaign manager, and Sheffield herself, for hypocrisy.
Collins cited conflict between Sheffield’s June 27th claim of putting “policy over politics” and disavowing negative campaign tactics of her opponents. He replied with two pieces that had been distributed from the Sheffield campaign just one day earlier.
In one, Sheffield accused Wright McLeod of “tracking” and “stalking” her. McLeod has a female staffer who routinely videos Sheffield’s public appearances, a practice that anyone who is familiar with Virginia Senate Candidate George Allen’s “macaca” incident can attest. Catching an opponent on video committing a gaffe is now part of a serious campaign.
In fact, it’s so familiar that Sheffield’s campaign routinely has Kat Ballou herself behind the video camera at most events, as she was when I was a panelist at a recent candidate forum in Vidalia. At no point did I feel that I was being stalked by Ballou, and having known McLeod’s staffer Holly Croft for a number of years, I sincerely doubt that she has any interest in stalking Sheffield. I also sincerely doubt that Sheffield thinks Croft is actually a stalker, either.
The other item distributed just a day earlier was a 3 minute video with Sheffield discussing past Democratic voting records and campaign contributions made by her opponents. Fair game to score points in a Republican primary, but contradictory to the message sent less than 24 hours later decrying “negative politics as usual attacks”.
Then again, you didn’t even have to look back a day at that video for the contradiction. In the fourth paragraph of that press release, Sheffield mentions most of the topics of her opponents’ Achilles’ heels to make sure you know their negatives.
Collins found the piety of the email a bit disingenuous to say the least. He noted in a reply email that “Maybe the people in Mableton can’t remember what they are emailed a day earlier, but in Vidalia we can.”
The reference was to Sheffield’s home, at least at the beginning of this race, in Mableton Georgia more than 100 miles from the nearest point of the 12th District. This remains noteworthy because Sheffield used her campaign announcement to attack Congressman Barrow for not living in the 12th, despite the reason being that the Georgia General Assembly drew him out of his district during reapportionment.
Which goes back to the question of sincerity. It is difficult to understand the motivation for someone to attack an incumbent for a weakness that they themselves have. But the effort to move Barrow out of the district was a Republican initiative, and Sheffield has demonstrated that she can recite partisan talking points. Even if she herself can’t quite live up to them.
Every campaign is a chance to raise the level of public discourse; an opportunity for candidates to offer new ideas and real solutions about how to solve the serious problems facing Georgia and the nation. In every campaign, most candidates fall short of this goal, and rely on cookie-cutter talking points that attack their opponents with stale rhetoric. Voters don’t really believe the candidates making these and other, silly charges. That’s fine, voters are supposed to be skeptical. But it’s a shame when candidates don’t believe (or trust) the voters.