^DEMOCRATS RISK A `CRACKPOT STRATEGY’@<
^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
^By BOB FRANKEN@=
^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=September 22, 2010
WASHINGTON _ Is that a sigh of relief we hear from the Democrats? Do they feel that Republicans have given them a chance to cut their losses by dealing them a bunch of jokers? Well, the Democrats need to be careful. There are already some signs they might overplay their hand.
It’s not that either party has a corner on negative advertising. The Democrats, in particular, seem to be betting heaviest on ridicule, teeing off on Tea Party-supported Senate candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Christine (``Dabbled in Witchcraft’’) O'Donnell in Delaware, and the others.
Democrats have done everything but describe these Republican nominees as a squadron of GOP cuckoo birds. And we've just gotten started.
That strategy could become a house of cards. Most importantly, relentless Democratic-led ridicule can quickly be perceived as nastiness. Non-stop anything gets old in a hurry and can quickly turn into sympathy for the targets.
An important study in the American Political Science Review found that ``While negative ads have the capacity to weaken political support for a candidate's opponent, 'going negative' in a campaign can also diminish the attacking candidate's stature among voters.’’
Since Sharron Angle won Nevada's GOP nomination to challenge Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, the incumbent has relentless pounded her with ads: Angle wants to ``Wipe Out Social Security,’’ says one. (She favors privatization) Even with this kind of clobbering, the most recent Nevada poll conducted by the Rasmussen Reports shows the race in a 48-48 dead heat.
Same with Rand Paul in Kentucky where the latest Democratic ads slam him for opposing mandatory helmets for motorcyclists. The latest polls show that Paul is way ahead of his Democratic opponent for U.S. Senate _ by up to 15 percentage points.
By assaulting the political outsiders as extremists, the extremely fed-up voters might feel they are being attacked, considering how ready they are to banish the devil they know and take a chance on a new fire breather.
Those in the mainstream come across to beleaguered voters as smug and arrogant, particularly since so many believe the mainstream is badly polluted.
In a recent New York Times interview, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg argued that the Tea Party movement is a fad _ and a damaging one because ``anger...is not a governing strategy.’’
Maybe not, but it's a mighty effective campaign strategy with an electorate that is angry.
It's not that the Tea Party and all its derivatives are so wildly popular. In fact the opposite is true.
Another poll, this one released Sept. 15 by the New York Times and CBS News asked ``Do you support the Tea Party Movement?’’
Only 19 percent of the respondents said ``Yes,’’ 63 percent said ``No.’
But ``extremists’’ have one huge advantage. They're extreme. They are extremely intense and motivated while everyone else seems to be lethargic and unmotivated.
In what is shaping up as a ``crackpot strategy,’’ Democrats may see their only hope. But it could also backfire and further rile up those who are deeply discontented. At the same time, such an approach might disgust everyone else.
They feel that the house rules are so stacked against them that it doesn't really matter who rules the House or the Senate. In that case, O'Donnell and the others on the fringes may get their chance to ``dabble’’ in government.