Article by Kathryn G. Nelson
For The UpTake (unpublished), October 7, 2013
Minneapolis mayoral candidates may consider their election platform to include being “Minnesota Nice”. But as the race progresses and the new Ranked-Choice Voting systems looms, some campaigns may be rethinking their election strategy, bringing a bit more edge to their platform and in turn, possibly alienating their own political party.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) brings obvious logistical differences to this year’s Minneapolis mayoral race, largely because voters are allowed to rank their first, second and third choice candidate on the ballot. But, Jeanne Massey, Executive Director of FairVote Minnesota said there are also several theoretical distinctions that differentiate RCV from previous voting systems.
Because RCV is structured with three ranked voting options, it is most advantageous for mayoral candidates to strive for placement on at least one of the three top spots, said Massey. It’s most likely that this race will come down to the second and third choice votes so if a candidate doesn’t land the number one spot, they should strive at least to get number two or three.
So how has the RCV system affected the campaign strategies of each candidate? For one, there has been a distinct lack of negative television or radio advertisements this year. That’s because, Massey said, if a candidate alienates themselves from a voter (let’s say by hurling nasty remarks at their opponents), that candidate is more likely to be completely left off a voter’s ballot, receiving none of the three ranked positions.
“In negative campaigning,” Massey said, “there’s a direct incentive that you get penalized.”
With 35 candidates running for Mayor, Massey said it’s crucial that each campaign also works for the second or third ranked positions. And that means, playing nice to others, she said.
“(Candidates) absolutely need to have contact with each other, but they don’t have to say, ‘that candidate is an idiot.’ The name-calling, attacking, and negative campaigning – that’s not substantive. Then you’re mocking the civility of the process and not focusing on the substance of the campaign,” Massey said.
Tensions were tangibly high at several of this autumn’s debates, particularly between candidates Betsy Hodges (DFL), Mark Andrew (DFL) and Cam Winton (Independent). At times, debates have turned into heated conversations with candidates talking over each other or above the moderator in order to prove their point.
The UpTake contacted three of the campaigns (Hodges, Andrew and Winton) to hear their thoughts on negative campaigning in this year’s elections. Though most of the candidates weren’t willing to provide specifics on who exactly was participating in negative campaigning, there were certainly a few groups who indicated that others were throwing insults their way.
Mark Andrew’s Campaign Manager, Marion Greene said she has noticed some negative moments against her candidate during public debates. But, she said, being that Andrew is the frontrunner of the race, that’s just par for the course.
“Certainly what you’re seeing in forums is that they’re coming after us, she said. “I think it’s because Mark is the frontrunner.” Greene’s comments are in contrast to an earlier Star Tribune poll that ranked Andrew in fifth place. But, Greene said, her campaign produced a separate poll that states that Andrew is in the lead.
Greene also remarked that in particular, the Winton campaign has been a bit more aggressive toward Andrew then other groups. That characteristic was clear during a September debate at the University of Minnesota when Winton began talking over Andrew while responding to a question about teacher negotiations. Jackie Cherryhomes (DFL) said the candidates needed to get their “egos out of the way.”
Greene suspected that because Winton needs to distinguish himself from the crowd he’s beginning to be more aggressive. “A way to do that is to make noise, and it only makes sense to do that to the front-runner rather than other candidates. Our strategy is to stay positive and to talk about the issue. It’s about collaborating and not being a bomb thrower,” she said.
Betsy Hodges’ Communications Director agreed with Greene stating that positive campaigning is their mission. “This campaign comes from the philosophy that positive campaigning is what we were going to be doing,” said Aaron Wells. “We’re not showing up at people’s doors and having nasty conversations.”
Wells did agree that there have been moments of high tension between Hodges and Winton, but that “her fellow candidates are colleges and people she respects” and that all of their interactions have been “very, very civil.” But there was an occasion of “insult hurling” when “Mark Andrew made the reference … that (Hodges) has small vision,” he said. “It was just nasty for the sake of being nasty.”
Wells remark is in reference to an August debate in which Andrew said Hodges had “the disease of small vision” because of her ideas about building a new hotel near the Minneapolis Convention Center. Hodges later sent out an email response about Andrew’s remarks, asking supporters to “send Mark a message that being dishonest and nasty will get him nowhere in Minneapolis.”
As for Angie Hasek with the Cam Winton campaign, she said in an email statement, “When there are differences between Cam and other candidates on policy stances … Cam never hesitates to point out that fact.” But, of course, “Cam has always taken care to note, though, that the policy differences are not personal differences.”
Though none of the three campaigns admitted they had participated in negative campaigning so far, it is clear that in order to win this election some sort of differentiation between the 35 runners will need to be made. As for the Hodges campaign, Wells said the elected Mayor would have to portray a positive outlook to their work both now and in the future.
“I think that the winner of the race will have stuck to the issues, talked about who they are and not have spent their time down in the mud looking for ways of trying to make everyone else seem unacceptable,” Wells said.