With four more voting days to go, a sudden shift in tactics in the race for Oregon governor: Kevin Mannix says he will end his negative TV spots - aimed mainly at Ron Saxton, a fellow Republican in the primary - and go positive.
The whiplash leaves you momentarily stunned, since it was Mannix and others on his behalf who have been the leading practitioners of going negative in this campaign. Will it gain him points? History indicates it might. An AP story on this notes that "Mannix's announcement comes straight from the playbook of Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who made a similar reach-for-statesmanship during the final weeks of his bitter special election fight in 1996 with then-Oregon Senate President Gordon Smith."
Not that Mannix isn't doing comparatives at all. Consider this quote from press release on his decision to end his "comparative" ads:
"Given the current projections for a low voter turn out, it's important that Oregonians cast a ballot and make sure their voices are heard," said Mannix. "When I heard Ron Saxton's personal attacks on an 80-year old man, I knew it was time to lead by example in an effort to change the tone of the campaign."
It just might have some effect, because of the relatively high quotient of negative ads swamping Oregon TV in the last couple of weeks - higher than normal, and seemingly (feels this way at least) overrunning the positive spots. even candidates like Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski, who in past years has even fielded heat for not going after opponents, has gone negative. We are not among the critics who disapprove of comparative ads as a matter of principle: Talking about why the other guy isn't a good choice is a useful and important part of political campaigns, not something to be ashamed of. On the other hand, overwhelming negativism imposes an undeniable price.
So that could mean the catch with Mannix' approach may be an already pervasive cynicism: They all do it, every one of them, and someone who tries to claim absolution from guilt minutes ahead of the electric chair is just too little, too late.
If so, it's late in the game for everyone.