As the end of primary season comes to a close, I look forward to general election that draws starker contrasts between the candidates and the issues they support. Rhode Island is a state in decline and we need what we’ve been lacking: strong and effective leadership in the State House. As the polls have tightened, candidates are competing for every vote and those precious few “undecided” voters are getting a barrage of phone calls and mail to try and win them over. Serious candidates have developed plans while some have just developed a few platitudes and have unleashed their attack surrogates to do their dirty work.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that “going negative” is part of every campaign. Just as players take another base when their opponent makes an error, pointing out your opponent’s flaws, missteps and bad ideas is what candidates do to compete in an election. With a stretched-too-thin media, opposition research is one way to keep elected officials accountable and allow the public to have the facts they need to make informed choices. There are some things you don’t do: in baseball, you don’t intentionally pitch at a player’s head and in politics you don’t ever say anything about someone’s children. Some candidates who want to keep their hands clean have surrogates or outside organizations that will do their negative campaigning for them and for the most part, they stick to the unwritten rule. It has been a long time since I’ve seen negative comments aimed at minor children and so my eyes burned when I read a nasty tweet from a high-level teacher’s union official about Gina Raimondo’s children.
NEARI has been supporting Clay Pell since the moment he found his way to Rhode Island to try and buy this election and I am certain he appreciates their support, but it is the height of hypocrisy for a candidate to wave his hands and whine about the negativity in the race (as Pell has) while cozying up to special interests who would “go after” kids. It’s even more stunning to me that there was no public rebuke — even Joba Chamberlain heard it from New York fans when he threw at Kevin Youkilis’ head. This person represents the people we entrust to educate our kids and he’s just given us a textbook example of bullying. I would think a lot more of Clay Pell — and perhaps believe that he wants to run a positive campaign — if there was any indication from him that this garbage was unacceptable.
This campaign season can be measured in hours, but candidates will carry the burden of what they say and do for years to come. My (unsolicited) advice to candidates in these last few days: don’t throw at anyone’s head and don’t tolerate it from anyone around you.