Mailers highlight difference between two state Senate candidates

November 2, 2012

It didn’t take long for things to heat up at a recent candidates night. Ernie Lopez, Senate District 6 Republican candidate, used his opening statement to rip Democratic opponent Andy Staton.

Waving a mailer sent out by the Staton campaign, Lopez waxed indignantly, “As a father of two daughters, with a wife who I work hard for, to get a piece of mail from my opponent in the mail that says ‘If Ernie Lopez wins, women lose,’ - folks, that’s disturbing.

“Who here is sick and tired of negative campaigning in this state? Please raise your hand. Raise your hand right now,” Lopez directed the standing- room-only crowd of 150 at the Cadbury at Lewes retirement community.

In addition to Lopez and Staton, the event included Senate District 6 candidate Gwendolyn Jones, a Libertarian, and the two Representative District 20 candidates, Democrat Marie Mayor and Republican Steve Smyk. The evening was sponsored by the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters of Sussex County.

(Both districts are new to Sussex County. District 6 takes in Dewey, Rehoboth, Lewes and Milton. District 20 includes Lewes, Harbeson and Milton. Many people, of course, are still unfamiliar with the new districts. If you aren’t sure of your district, please go the Sussex County Department of Elections website.)

Sitting in the front row, I didn’t get a good count at the number of people who raised their hands, but Lopez definitely received a response.

“So am I,” Lopez said solemnly. “Folks, we can do better.”

The Staton mailer focused on Lopez’s answer to a questionnaire conducted by the Delaware Family Policy Council, an organization founded in 2007 to strengthen families. The website says, “God’s design for the family is where virtue thrives.”

Question 10 asked, “Do you oppose using taxpayer money to fund Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services?”

Lopez answered yes. According to the website, Staton didn’t respond to that question. (Check website for more information.)

Since Staton had already delivered his opening remarks, he was forced to use a portion of his time answering another question - appropriately enough for this week, about sea-level rise - responding to Lopez’s attack.

“This campaign is not about three of us standing in front of you,” Staton began. “It’s about the positions and policies of each of us that are important. I am a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood. I’m proud that our state provides funding for Planned Parenthood.”

Staton said that Planned Parenthood provides services for 25 percent of Delaware women, including mammograms, HIV and cervical cancer testing, and family planning. “This is about defining the positions that are different,” he said.

Is saying, “If Lopez wins, women lose,” tough? Yes. Is it too tough for local politics? We’ll find out next Tuesday.

But while the mailer is hard-hitting, I wouldn’t describe it as a cheap shot, because it’s based on a real policy difference between the two candidates.

As Smyk said to me recently, Sussex Countians - both Republicans and Democrats - are generally conservative. If Smyk is right, Staton’s mailer will backfire. Support for Planned Parenthood is probably a good proxy for how you view the role of government.

My other reaction is that accusing an opponent of negative campaigning can be a not-so-subtle form of negative campaigning.

Lopez’s statement above seems to suggest this kind of advertisement should be off limits because he has a wife and two daughters. Would the mailer have been more acceptable if Lopez didn’t have a family?

That doesn’t wash. Like all politicians, Lopez has become two people, the private man and the public. As a private citizen, Lopez might have a right to be offended. As a public man, he has to shake it off.

As it happens, Staton apparently shook off Lopez’s attack. A couple of days later, I received a new mailer from the Staton campaign: “Don’t let Lopez decide for women.” Like the earlier one, it focused on the two candidates’ positions on Planned Parenthood. Most of the evening, however, was perfectly civil, with Steve Smyk deserving special mention for graciousness.

After having his name repeatedly mispronounced - it’s pronounced “Smick” and not “Smike” - Smyk said good-naturedly, “I’ve been called worse.”

Hurricane Sandy knocks out political signs

As if politicians didn’t have enough to worry about a week before the election, Hurricane Sandy added another task for candidates and their supporters.

Prior to the storm, DelDOT asked all politicians to remove yard signs from private homes and roadways.

On Saturday, Ernie Lopez emailed his supporters, asking them to remove his yard signs. On Sunday, before the storm began in earnest, it appeared quite a few supporters had already done so.

After the storm clears, we’ll be able to see which candidates made an effort to comply with DelDOT’s request. The question is, how many of those small roadway signs will be replaced before Election Day?

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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