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Final Campaign Lessons: On the Street and On the Tube

There was a knock on the door late Sunday afternoon and the 10-year-old in our house looked up from his book: "Oh, no, another candidate," he said.

He was right, of course. But put aside his exaggerated exasperation and consider what a privilege it is to have so many candidates dropping by, making their arguments, ready and eager to talk about policy, personal background or whatever the voters have on our minds. In fact, the kids have been thrilled by the shoe leather democracy that has blossomed in the District this season, not only the much-ballyhooed door-to-door campaigns of Adrian Fenty and Linda Cropp, but the many other candidates in ward council races and other elections who have decided that this is a small enough city that it can make a real difference to go out and meet the voters, one by one.

It's a delicious antidote to the politics of 30-second TV spots, and you can see it all over the region, in Maryland, Virginia and the District. It is, several campaign consultants tell me, a reaction to polling and anecdotal analysis that shows growing popular cynicism about TV commercials and the facile, silly messages they often communicate (of course, the door-to-door trend also reflects the fact that more and more voters are able to bypass TV spots because they time-shift their TV viewing or devote their screen time to video games, the Interweb, and DVDs, media where candidates have a much tougher time making contact.)

So it was that I watched D.C. candidates pressing the flesh and making their arguments at yesterday's Adams Morgan Day and Chevy Chase Day street fairs--Fenty gregariously edging his way down crowded 18th Street NW, where seemingly everyone wanted to shake his hand; Cropp gamely moving up and down the block where I live, still knocking on doors even in the final hours; Marie Johns dancing the Electric Slide (one of the great uniquely-DC pop cultural phenomena) outside the Chevy Chase Community Center; council members Kathy Patterson and Jim Graham jumping into the throngs in Adams Morgan to debate rent control, affordable housing and baseball; Andy Miscuk pushing on with his courageous challenge to the most incomprehensibly popular political figure in the District's history, the useless delegate to the House of Representatives.

But as inspiring as all this street-level politicking may be, most folks still pick up their political messages on the tube or on the air as they drive to work, and so I've been jotting down what I've learned from the ads on TV and radio:

Most attention-getting use of patriotic music in a radio spot: The eternal candidate and semi-professional heckler, Robin Ficker, now running for Montgomery County Executive.

Speaking of MoCo's top job, I take it from Steve Silverman's ads that Ike Leggett is a "good guy with bad ideas." But the more I hear in Silverman's spots about Leggett's ideas, the more I like those "bad ideas" (raising the gas tax, building lots of affordable housing, expressing skepticism about the Purple Line). Does that mean that Leggett is a bad guy with good ideas? Count me confused.

Also, in all those ads that start out saying nasty stuff about the other guy, and then suddenly the screen lights up and the music shifts from minor to major key and a guitar strums gently and the announcer tells us that "There is a better way," I have to confess that I like the discordant soundtrack much, much better. Can't we have the same ads, but with the music swapped around the other way?

I've been listening to more ads than watching them, and I recommend to all voters that you take an hour or so and whatever your race, listen to the stations that seek an audience of people not like you. You may find candidates presenting entirely different views of themselves to what they assume is a completely separate and different audience. For instance, as best I can tell, Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is advertising almost entirely on black stations, where announcers who sound stereotypically black laud the old man for his service to that community. Similarly, Maryland attorney general candidate Stuart Simms has spots airing on black stations that talk about how the Baltimore lawyer would provide justice "for us." If I want justice too, am I therefore supposed to vote for the other guy?

And do you have to be as dumb and weird as that couple in the Rushern Baker TV spot (it's the first spot on the list on that linked page) to vote for the challenger in the Prince George's County Executive race?

But let me see if I understand incumbent Jack Johnson's TV ad--if Baker was involved in a few county contracts and that somehow taints him, then the fact that Johnson dished out many, many county contracts to friends makes him worthy of reelection? Something does not compute.

Back into the District: Adrian Fenty's TV spot focuses in on his worn-out shoes. The man has $2 million to spend on this campaign and he can't afford a decent pair of shoes? And I've now watched that Tony Williams-Linda Cropp ad at least a dozen times and what I don't get is why two people who so evidently don't care for each other would sit so closely together. And remind me please why I can't vote again for the bowtie man?

By Marc Fisher |  September 11, 2006; 7:38 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

We agree with Marc! Here is just one reason of many why three former Housing Opportunity Commission Chairs strongly endorse Ike Leggett for County Exec.

The affordable housing crisis in Montgomery County, Maryland is not a "new" story. The problem is chronic. Unless it is addressed creatively - and with an effective long range plan and genuine community commitment - it will only worsen.
We have read with interest your recent article entitled "Housing Creates Split in Montgomery Race". While the article aptly points out that 20,000 applicants have submitted applications for HOC's Section 8 or Housing Choice Voucher programs, it fails to point out that only 500 or fewer additional housing units will be made available for these applicants. What does it illustrate when teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and other hospital workers, bus drivers, and our own young adult children cannot afford to live in the community in which they serve or in which they grew up? In most societies this would be nothing short of an embarrassment.
Your article termed this "A Hot Election Issue". We are concerned about what will happen after the election - when a new County Executive has been elected and the scrutiny of an interested public and press moves on to other "hot" topics and less complicated problems. Indeed, one of the reasons why we are supporting Ike Leggett for County Executive is that, based upon our experience in working with him for many years, we are convinced that he will remain committed to addressing this problem in a careful, meaningful and productive fashion. Ike Leggett served on the County Council for 16 years. Our service as members and chairs of the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County overlapped a substantial portion of Mr. Leggett's service on the Council. We found during our service that he was a leader committed to addressing this problem - and we observed first hand how he did so - whether or not it was going to get him short term political gain in the process.
Mr. Leggett is the candidate best equipped to address this problem with the creativity and commitment that is required in the years ahead. Very truly yours,
Barbara Goldberg-Goldman,Mark Winston, and Cathy Bernard
Former Chairs and Former Members

Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 10:24 AM

The timing of Brown's withdrawal from the Mayor's race sure is odd. He's still on the ballot, his endorcement was too late to make any real difference, and his support for Cropp comes off like he was looking for something rather than doing a civic deed. Plus, he came off hostile and angry in his interview on WAMU. Just plain strange.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 10:34 AM

Silverman and Leggett are both good candidates, I'm pleased to say. I'm voting for Silverman because he is the one most likely to be a best administrator and executive for the County. After all, that's the position we're voting for - County Executive.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 10:36 AM

...AND we are voting for LEGGETT precisely because we so strongly believe that he IS the Administrator that this County needs. We agree with the Washington Post, Gazette and so many other individuals and organizations that IKE LEGGETT is far and away the better choice for leading our County. He has the integrity, intelligence and leadership qualities that are second to none in this race. WE URGE ALL MONTGOMERY COUNTY DEMS to vote for IKE LEGGETT for COUNTY EXECUTIVE!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 10:45 AM

Hey Marc! Good seeing you at Adams Morgan Day while I was out campaigning for the "Shadow" U.S. Representative postion, even if you don't mention me above with the other candidates you saw :)

Posted by: Mike Panetta for Shadow Representative | September 11, 2006 10:52 AM

Here's a few hints for bloggers- 1. Spellcheck your work before you submit. Yeah, I know, it's the web and lots of folks use no caps and no spellcheck and no grammar, but hey, it makes you sound like a moron and the world is well supplied with those already. 2. Easy on the caps lock, please. You can communicate your passion without screaming. WHEN YOU WRITE LIKE THIS YOU SOUND SO STRIDENT THAT FOR MANY OF US IT IS JUST A TURN OFF AND WE STOP LISTENING TO YOU. 3. Ditto the exclamation marks. Thanks for reading and don't forget to vote.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 11:33 AM

Thanks for the tips. We will be mindful of the caps and punctuation in the future. Sorry if caps were offensive: And, we thought they were for emphasis. Ah, the rules of the internet. Wonder if it is a generational thing.

Again, we agree: as Americans, voting is our inalienable right. We live in the best Country in the entire world. We all must exercise this right no matter for whom we are voting. Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and successful Primary Day.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 12:07 PM

Here's a few hints for people that feel they need to correct someone's grammer.....

Be a teacher!!!!

It's called Freedom!

To speak and write in any form necessary.

Actually, for you to take the time to even discuss such a thing makes you the moron.

Stop smelling yourself...and go vote.

Fenty in 06!

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 12:43 PM

Folks, in the interest of preventing the comment boards from becoming a cesspool of advertising, I am removing the ads for the Leggett campaign that popped up here this morning. I have no problem with readers using this forum to argue for the candidates of their choice, but we all have plenty of access to the candidates' ads and don't need to see them repeated here. Anyone disagree? Let's hear about it.

Posted by: Fisher | September 11, 2006 12:48 PM

I agree Marc, take Ad's's not right.

This is open discussion on issues not a place for Advertising something or someone.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 12:52 PM

Michael Brown's endorsement of Linda Cropp Shows that the other candidates for mayor know that she is the only person who can lead the District into a prosperous future. I have no doubt she will win the election for mayor next week. Cropp is an innovator and a forward thinker. She has outlined a strong vision for change and opportunity. Mr. Brown has now reinforced this by bowing out of the race and throwing his support squarely behind Cropp for mayor. This election is just heating up.

Posted by: Terrell | September 11, 2006 12:54 PM

I think Johns should step down and support Fenty.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 1:09 PM

Well, we are disappointed about the removal of other comments since they can be very informative and do address your column. However, we definitely respect your opinion. But, in any case we hope that your readers will agree with us that Ike Leggett is a "Good Guy with Good ideas" and send him to the County Executive's Office for the next 4 years. He is far and away the best candidate for County Executive. The negative ads lodged against him by his opposition are disgusting and untrue. And,the list of supporters in his opponent's website contains some misinformation. There are folks on that list who have publicly endorsed Ike Leggett.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 1:13 PM

The idea of candidates giving messages to different audiences in today's media environment is bizarre. It's like the dishonesty, corruption, and cover-ups we have in government, i.e., don't they think somebody will eventually find out?

I've heard Lincoln and Douglas used this "different messages" approach, but they had the advantage of slow travel and mainly local press.

I hate to be cynical about government, but sometimes it's tough to be optimistic in the face of dumbness and duplicity.

Posted by: THS | September 11, 2006 1:41 PM

The fact that Mayor Williams and Linda Cropp don't always get along but HE STILL endorsed her should tell you something. He knows which candidate will be a better mayor.

The mayor endorsed Cropp because it's not about personality, it about what's best for the city.

Posted by: DC Democrat | September 11, 2006 1:52 PM

I think Mayor Williams behind Cropp is an Old School scratch my back I'll scratch yours. Believe me, Cropp probably promised something to the Mayor if she's elected.

Fenty, and Mayor Williams never did and never will get along.

I am more than willing to take a chance with a younger leader who'll take risk and stand up and get the people behind him to get his/our way.

As I've expressed before I am greatly concerned about the Cropp's health and the stress of being Mayor with today's DC.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 2:12 PM

A vote to bury the Purple line is a vote to bury the Purple line. Leggett, Van Hollen, Ehrlich, and O Malley all have plans to bury the Purple line.

With the ICC construction imminent, it is imperative that the Purple line be built. The ICC will ONLY increase beltway traffic. The Purple line is the ONLY way to mitigate that problem.

The houses built in the "shadow," of the ICC will generate traffic. The traffic will want to go to Balt, D.C and points in between.

To do that folks will have to get on 270, 95 and the beltway. The Purple line is the only way to mitigate this ridiculous situation.

Posted by: Joseph Boggi | September 11, 2006 2:14 PM

I was undecided on my candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. After carefully looking at each candidate, I think Linda W. Cropp will be the best candidate for mayor. At first, I was impressed with Adrian M. Fenty, but he's lacking the experience, and he's too liberal on his policies. Marie Johns is articulate, but she's not known in the District by the voters, and I'm afriad, she might have the same ideas as former Mayor Sharon Pratt-Kelly. As a life long Democrat, I am fed up with the Democratic Party's liberalism, and not taking a stand on important issues. I am not saying the Republican Party is great either. We need more than a two party system in the United States.

Posted by: Black D.C. Ward 4 Voter | September 11, 2006 2:56 PM

Unlike Marc, my husband and I are not interested in anyone knocking on our door to campaign. We have little enough down time that we don't want to be disturbed by door knockers and telephone calls asking for our vote. We look at campaign literature, the Post's voting guide, then mark our sample ballots and we're good to go.

Just leave us alone, thanks. :-)

Posted by: myopinion | September 11, 2006 3:22 PM

To Black in Ward 4:

Ok, I respect your opinion but give your reason for supporting Cropp, you just gave an opinion on why you decided not to support Fenty, which I find weak.

The issue of Democrat vs. Republican, well that's America and if you play the middle you and your vote will be useless. You will never see an Indepent or other party win in America for a long time.

As I've said before, I'm not quite sure how you can't have a bit of liberalism in you in America, look at the different cultures, religons, gays, rich, poor etc., how can you not be liberal in some way.

For me, I like the term Conservative Liberal...which means to me..It's ok to be rich, but look out for all people and in this country it can be done.

To be a Right Wing Republican is not a good thing obviously look at our country now.

Liberal is not a bad word.

Please people stop being brainwashed into thinking it is.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 3:33 PM

What I'm most surprised about for this election is how many of my very smart, nationally politically active friends who live in MoCo admit to knowing very little about the MoCo local elections. These same people seem to know the minute details about the DC Mayor's race, even that the Post has endorsed some ward candidates. Marc - you're trying to cover MoCo in your column and blog, but does the Post in general over cover the DC races at the expense of Montgomery and Prince Georges? What about the MD State and the Northern Virginia races. MoCo is kind of fun if you give it a chance. I love DC Politics, I just want more local political coverage. It's Washington afterall, what we do is politics.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 3:34 PM

Am I the only one who thinks that some of these candidates have too much money to spend? How many of those bloated, glossy Fenty mailings -- which all deliver essentially the same vague platitudes -- are too many? And how many times do we have to watch the same mindless TV commercials? "Hi, I'm Mfume and I made mistakes when my mother died." Is it really too costly to produce multiple TV spots?

I hope when people are approached to contribute to political campaigns that they will use some perspective. There are poor people with big problems and too little money. These are more pressing needs than mass mailings and recorded telephone messages.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | September 11, 2006 4:06 PM

Your post got me curious, so I ran some numbers. These are very rough, based on searches of the Post's story database, but they provide evidence both in favor of and against your argument: The Post's coverage of the major Maryland races over the past 90 days has been quite extensive--59 stories on the Montgomery County Executive contest, 42 on the Prince George's County Executive contest, 56 on the Maryland Senate race, and 38 on the Maryland comptroller election. But you're right about the larger emphasis on the D.C. mayoral contest--119 stories on that one in the same period. There is a good argument to be made for a greater focus on the D.C. mayor's race: First, even though the suburban jurisdictions are far more populous, the District remains the place that people across the region pay attention to, either because they work there or because some other major aspect of their lives is spent there. Also, the well-being of the District has a direct impact on people living in the suburbs. And this particular mayoral election is potentially a major turning point for the city, whereas Prince George's voters are considering reelecting a popular incumbent, and the Montgomery candidates are generally talking about continuing Doug Duncan's approach.
But there are very important and interesting suburban races that the paper is covering much more closely than elections in the District. For example, the challenge by Jamin Raskin to state Sen. Ida Ruben in Montgomery County has been mentioned in 16 stories in the past three months, while the wide-open contest for Ward 3 council member has made it into the paper only seven times in that period.
It's always tricky to identify the races that tell us the most about the shape and direction of the electorate in a given cycle, but certain contests just seem to capture the public imagination, and that of reporters and editors as well.

Posted by: Fisher | September 11, 2006 4:09 PM

I may be very layman on this...but it's called the Washington Post, so duh....

Now, as for Maryland and Virginia, what are the names of Newspapers for MD and VA, they have their respectful papers I'm sure that cover more than enough of the elections and its politicians. So, having the Washington Post cover more of DC than MD or VA makes common sense to me.

Anyway, that's just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 4:23 PM

Frankey, I am not a big Linda Cropp fan, but I believe, she can manage the District affairs better than Adrian Fenty. I am nervous about Fenty getting elected as mayor. Can he manage an 8 billion dollar budget? Will he manage like Marion Barry? All Politicians are liars! They make promises to the voters, but soon after they are elected, they forget about us. As far as liberal, I agree, it's good to be liberal on some things, and conservative on others. Fenty supports Gay Marriage, and giving voting rights to "non-citizens" of the District. I support Civil Unions for gays and lesbians. Voting Rights should be reserved for U.S. citizens. District residents don't have representation in Congress, so why should we give voting rights to 'non-citizens"? My parents and the Catholic church taught me, marriage is between a man and woman. As a father of three sons, 22, 24, and 27, my wife and I have taught them the teachings regarding marriage between a man and woman. To be honest, it doesn't matter if Fenty or Cropp get elected, because these Politicians will do as they please anyway.

Posted by: D.C. Black Ward 4 Voter | September 11, 2006 4:35 PM

Hi, again, Frankey.

I wish I could agree that having the Post cover more DC than MD and VA made sense, but the MD and VA portions of our metropolitan service area have something like 10X the population that the DC portion has... Come to think of it, that suits me just fine! At least we have our dedicated reporting staff. Now, if only they'd cover the nuts and bolts of DC gov operation a bit more closely...

Posted by: Mark | September 11, 2006 4:41 PM

To Black Ward 4:

Good points, and agree with some of what you discussed, however I don't believe in mind control based on theory, and your Catholic background is more about control than the understanding of life.

I belive in allowing your children to hear both sides and then let them decide, I too have children and will not force any religion on them, however I do discuss choices with them and where these choices come, theory, or maybe realistic vision and in most cases they make good choices.

I too believe theat politicians are liars, but it seems the truths are comign to the forefront now, and we as voters remember, and we're better today at reminding our leaders if they did what they said they were going to do and if not, you're out.

Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 4:45 PM

Folks: Its been fun reading everyone's comments on this site but I'm off to do my last two hours leafleting at my neighborhood subway stop for Fenty with two other volunteers. So far no other candidate has bothered with this location. Maybe that's why Cropp isn't doing as well as she thought--we are volunteering to do this; we are not paid staff.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 4:53 PM

Mark, I agree, but what are the major newspapers in MD and VA.

Here's a historical question, was there in the history of Washington Post a time where most news coverage was more local than surburban?


Posted by: Frankey | September 11, 2006 4:56 PM

Frankey, now that my kids are adults, they make their own decisions and choices as adults. As parents, my wife and I made sure our kids attended church, and had some moral up bringing in their lives. We didn't allow them to hang out in the streets after 8 p.m., and we knew their where abouts at all times. I don't agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church. As a Christian, we exponsed our children to Christianity. The black church has been the backbone of the black community since slavery. Without the church, many blacks might have gone insane dealing with the unjustices in their lives. If any of my sons had turned out to be gay, I would still love them. But I am glad, all three of my sons are heterosexuals. Homosexuals have too many stresses in today's society, and being black and gay would be an added stress on them. Regardless who's elected mayor of the District of Columbia, I will go on living my life on this earth, because Politicians will do as they please.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2006 5:15 PM

Frankey, if Fenty is elected as mayor on tomorrow, who will we select as our representative in Ward 4? He was very good with constituent services, and I must give him credit for that. I don't think, the resdients of Ward 4 will find another person like Ward 4 Councilman Fenty. In today's Washington Times, black reporter Deborah Simmons wrote an excellent editorial on the D.C. mayoral race. I enjoy reading her articles, because she makes more sense than the Post too liberal journalists. You make some good points Frankey. The most important thing, is vote on September 12th for your candidate of choice.

Posted by: DC Black Ward 4 Voter | September 11, 2006 5:47 PM

Thanks for the analysis Marc, its very interesting. I credit you, the Raw Fisher blog, and the Md Blog for more Post coverage of the MoCo and MD state races this year. There have been some great stories resulting - exciting new political voices like Jaime Raskin and then there are the comments of Comptroller Schaeffer for wonder and amazement. Lots to think about. I'm hoping for more MoCo and DC political coverage in the future.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 12, 2006 10:34 AM

All this door knocking, and I haven't seen a bit of it. I live in an apartment building, so I guess we're just ruled out as too difficult? It just seems odd to me that a candidate can say they've knocked on every door in the city while they've skipped all the apartments.

Posted by: JC in DC | September 12, 2006 11:51 AM

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