If you’re an incumbent in a tight race in a year that the internet and the grassroots are playing a bigger role than ever, there are lots of strategies you can use to attack your opponent, but you may be in trouble if the worst you can find to say about him is that he’s a blogger.
That’s the strategy which incumbent State Representative Mark Strama has decided to rely on in his latest attack ad, and it doesn’t work terribly well. Making a big issue of his opponent’s use of the pseudonym “Freedom’s Truth” in his online writings, and quoting a few relatively harmless snippets out of context is likely to win challenger Pat McGuinness more votes than it costs him. As smear campaigns go it’s extraordinarily poorly thought out.
It also seems like a really bad idea to invite the kind of response you’re likely to get when you decide that “Bloggers Are Evil” is a great campaign slogan. With all the attacks on the Tea Party and the general hostility of the left to free speech in any form, making the demonization of free speech the lynchpin of your platform in a high-tech town like Austin is positively suicidal.
Worst of all, is that mentioning McGuinness’ nom de blogue is like a free invitation for people to google him and his writings and go read everything he has to say. If McGuinness were some sort of radical far-right nut, that might be a threat to him, but the truth is that his online writings are generally moderate, well-reasoned and perceptive.
Misrepresenting your opponents opinions in an attack ad is standard strategy. Making it easy for viewers to go find them, discover how much you distorted them and then have access to a whole bunch of interesting ideas from your opponent is just dumb, dumb, dumb. Stama essentially spent thousands of dollars to run a free ad for McGuinness’ blog, where sources report that traffic is “skyrocketing.”
And, of course, the blogger also gets an opportunity to write a new blog entry directly in response to your ad. Maybe this is Strama’s new version of the Fairness Doctrine, but as strategies go it seems incredibly boneheaded.
McGuinness was down by a few points before Strama began this ad campaign. I won’t be at all surprised if these ads give McGuinness the edge he needs to win.