But then again, maybe not.
“There’s always this story or that story going around,” said Wendy Davis, a Rome-based political consultant and member of the Democratic National Committee. “But, sadly, most local campaigns don’t garner the attention of regular voters. The reality is, this is the time most people start paying attention.”
County police have recovered the original copy of a hate-filled campaign flier that first appeared in mid-October on a bulletin board at the Charles C. Parker Center in Etowah Park.
“We’re going to attempt to raise latent prints, but I’m sure it’s been handled quite a bit,” said department spokesman Maj. Mark Wallace.
The full-page diatribe — signed by a group calling itself “The Young White Republicans of Floyd County” — urges readers to “be proud of your hate” for immigrants, Muslims, the poor, public schools and other targets. The Floyd County Republican and Democratic parties have both vehemently denounced the flier.
Wallace said he’s not sure there is a violation of the law, but a veiled threat could be a crime. The plan is to gather the evidence and present it to the district attorney for a decision.
Alvin Jackson, a local activist, said his organization is hearing tales of other dirty campaign tactics, and his group will be following the investigation.
“You’ve got a person out there who thinks on that level, there’s no telling what will happen on election day,” Jackson said. “In my opinion, there’s hate out there because of a black president … I’m not sure if it’s party-related or racist, but it’s sickening.”
Several other local campaign activities also have drawn shocked criticism, although only the destruction of candidates’ signs has resulted in a formal police report.
A directional sign at the Floyd County early voting center appeared to have a candidate’s logo on it, but Elections Supervisor Evon Billups said it was just a piece of clip art representing a stylized flag. It has since been removed.
An anonymous Facebook page questioning another candidate’s character also has generated some talk. A proponent said it contains only verifiable facts, but an opponent called it sneaky — raising issues that should be aired publicly, where there’s opportunity for a response.
Quiet on the public front
The early voting centers, however, are showing little sign of turmoil and local candidates on the whole are taking things in stride.
Billups said one early voter started cursing loudly about the need to oust the president, but he settled down when a pollworker threatened to call security. Another came clad in a campaign T-shirt, but turned it inside out after being told it’s against Georgia law to bring political materials inside a polling place.
“It always happens, but there hasn’t been anything unruly yet,” Billups said. “You’re going to have your normal triers on Election Day, but there’s only been those two incidents so far.”
Most veteran local politicos agreed with Billups that contests this year are not really more bitter than in the past, at least compared with the national tone.
“Campaigns in general have taken a negative turn in recent years,” said Layla Shipman of the Floyd County GOP.
She said voters prefer issue-oriented campaigns, but if one side puts out an attack piece it usually sparks retaliation from the other side. And sometimes an attack will come from a political action committee with its own agenda.
“Technically, it’s illegal for a candidate to even tell the PAC to stop running the ads,” Shipman said. “But I’m proud of the sheriff’s race between Cary Cooper and Tim Burkhalter. There’s been no negatives there, and more candidates need to take a page out of that book.”
Davis also pointed to outside money as a catalyst for the rise of aggressive campaigning.
“The big ugly beasts in the field are the anonymous people weighing in with millions, who don’t have anything positive to say,” she said. “We should feel blessed we don’t live in a swing state.”
State party activity
In the close state House District 12, the redrawn voting district lines have the candidates on edge and slick campaign fliers put out by the state political parties are adding to the tension.
Republican Eddie Lumsden, a former county commissioner, is challenging incumbent Democrat Barbara Massey Reece for the seat she’s held for 12 years.
Lumsden took issue with a mailer by the Democratic Party of Georgia that makes it seem he supports the state charter school amendment that appears on the Nov. 6 ballot. Lumsden said he opposes the initiative because it would override local control.
“They’re telling people what I think, and it’s a direct contradiction of what I’ve said,” he said. “When hit pieces come out at the last minute, you don’t have time to respond.”
Reece said Lumsden has aligned himself with party leaders who are pushing the amendment, so the mailer is “substantially correct.” Her beef is with a mailer by the Republican Party of Georgia that makes it appear Lumsden is the incumbent in the race.
“People were upset that it implied he was already elected. I felt it was rather an insult to anyone who had held the office of state representative,” she said.
Lumsden said the piece, which came as a surprise to him, “was more of a question of sentence construction.” But he said it does give the wrong impression and he asked that it not be repeated. Reece said he was forced into public acknowledgement by a question at a Summerville forum.
But she said the campaign season overall has been mild.
“You expect negatives in a campaign, but I haven’t noticed it’s worse than in previous years,” Reece said. “Usually, the negative things are put out by a group other than the candidates’ committees.”
Christian voter guide?
Floyd County Commissioner Rhonda Wallace, a Republican, said she was disturbed by a purported “Christian Voter Guide” signed by an organization called “teapartynewspaper” that appeared during the July primary in which she won the seat.
“I was very offended that a group of people would single out who they thought was a Christian and who wasn’t a Christian,” she said.
Wallace said she “was saved as a child,” but the group never contacted her. Instead, the flier listed a small slate of candidates in Floyd and surrounding counties it said would “stand for liberty” and “reflect a Christian moral conscious.” The implication that other candidates were not morally worthy was hurtful, she said.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the presidential election that’s causing people to be more negative, but it seems like it’s a different time,” she said. “We have so many good people in Rome and Floyd County, though. I think it’s just a select group of people who are more vocal.”
Mike Morton, a founder of the Rome Tea Party, said the flier originated with a group in Chattooga County and was not endorsed locally.
“As far as I’m concerned, it is the kind of thing that had no credibility,” he said. “It was created by people who had more of an extreme point of view. We made an effort to find them and recall them.”
Morton also said he thinks the “Young White Republican” hate flier is a deviation from the norm, and he doesn’t believe there’s a local trend toward negative campaigning.
“It’s the national scene, the presidential election…There’s more tension than usual this year, I think, on the part of the people as well as the candidates,” he said.
Click to see a candidate training presentation by the State Ethics Commission.