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The impact of negative campaigning — 2009 version

- November 4, 2009

From Josh Marshall over at TPM:

bq. The reason negative campaigns often lose isn’t necessarily because people don’t like negativity. It’s because you usually get into running a negative campaign because that’s the last card you’ve got to play. McDonnell could run a feel good campaign because he was kicking Deeds butt pretty much the whole way. Conversely, Corzine didn’t lose because he ran a negative campaign. He ran a negative campaign because he was incredibly unpopular with New Jersey voters. And making Christie equally unpopular was really his only path to victory. This is elementary.

This is so elementary that even I agree. In Virginia, Deeds, the trailer, did what a trailer should do: try to move undecideds and McDonnell supporters toward himself. Lacking a charismatic personality or a set of compelling policy appeals, his only resort was to attack, attack, attack. He shot his big gun — McDonnell’s M.A. thesis — early and often, and then he had nothing left that could have caught him up. Meanwhile, McDonnell, as the clear front-runner, was able to do what a front-runner should do: wage a more positive campaign that emphasizes his appealing personal qualities. The McDonnell campaign’s response to Deeds’ relentless attacks was, I thought, masterfully done — especiallyt an ad that featured glowing testimonials from several women who had worked with McDonnell when he was attorney general of Virginia.

The elementary point restated: It’s not so much that attackers lose as that losers attack.

[Hat tip to Henry]