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Negative ads and wedge issues

The GOP goes negative in an ad against Dayton; Dayton calls for a debate based on issues; gay marriage as a wedge issue; Franken visits the Vikes.

“It is that mudslinging season,” says FOX9’s Tom Butler, introducing the GOP’s first attack ad against DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. But what is the nature of that mudslinging to be? While the ad itself addresses much of Dayton’s public behavior as a senator — which is certainly fair game — it’s quite careful with its selection of key phrases to highlight for viewers: “erratic,” “a strange aberration,” “perplexing,” “panicky.” Note that these comments are almost all in response to one incident, from 2004, when then-senator Dayton shut down his Washington office in response to what he insists were credible threats to his staffers.

Sure, it was an odd moment, as he was the only senator to do so, and intelligence officials insisted there was no such threat — but there were a lot of weird decision post-911, including this country’s collective notion to invade an unrelated country. So why bring it up now? Well, deliberately or not, the GOP ad presents a portrait of Dayton as unhinged, which comes dangerously close to painting him as unfit for office because he has suffered depression and struggled with alcoholism. And what the GOP ad merely hints at, conservative commenters have made overt: “The man is insane and if competent psych doctors were allowed to examine him they would conclude that too,” says one on the Hot Air blog; “If Dayton’s campaign was honest they’d run this ad “Vote for Dayton if you want a bored, lazy, insane socialist as your governor,” says Barthélemy Barbancourt on the Anti-Strib blog.

Mark Dayton had a press conference Thursday to address this, the whole of which is summed up by the headline for the story by Tim Pugmire of Minnesota Public Radio: “Dayton’s call for positive campaign ads gets ‘no’ for an answer.” Here specifically was Dayton’s public request: “Let’s have a clean campaign. Let’s have a positive campaign. We have honest disagreements on the issues — that’s democracy,” he said. “I think my two opponents are decent men, and I will treat them as such. And I think that’s the kind of campaign that Minnesotans deserve.”

The GOP responded by calling him a hypocrite for not denouncing an ad discussing GOP candidate Tom Emmer’s  past drunk driving arrests. Dayton responded that he does think those ads were over the line, but felt it would be presumptive of him to condemn the ad when he was not yet the official candidate. The whole discussion here strikes us at the Glean as being a bit odd — after all, the GOP sounds as though it is admitting that some ads go too far, but they intend to keep running them anyway, as, well, the other guy did it once. Dayton has said he will speak out against any similar ads (IP candidate Tom Horner has made the same promise). It remains to be seen what happens as a result — after all, attack ads are to politics as swallows are to Capistrano. As the Star Tribune’s Rachel E. Stassen-Berger reminds us, Norm Coleman made a similar pledge during his protracted campaign against Al Franken, and Coleman’s supporters just ignored him and ran whatever ad they wanted.

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It’s a little puzzling as to why attack ads are going so personal when the issues themselves are so juicy. Take gay marriage, which will certainly be a wedge issue in the coming election, although, with polls showing Americans increasingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage, it’s not clear which way that wedge will shove. It certainly became a heated issue for Target, who threw some money behind the anti-gay-marriage Tom Emmer and set off an enormous backlash — one that continues, as the AP reports.

Of course, gay marriage is legal in Iowa right now, and there has been a push to oust the judges who supported the move. Pawlenty, who has been in Iowa a lot lately, has an opinion on the subject, as reported by the AP. His opinion is that if folks want to throw the judges out, they get to throw them out: “It’s a democracy, that’s why we have elections,” Pawlenty said. Of course, the U.S. Constitution also enshrined the idea that human rights are not decided by the capriciousness of the majority, and that, even in a democracy — in fact, especially in a democracy — we must guarantee the rights of the minority against the whims of the majority through a system of checks and balances. But wedge issues rarely concern themselves with the nuances of democracy.

This particular wedge has already cost the GOP at least one high-profile member: As Andy Birkey of Minnesota Independent tells it, Paul Koering, who was defeated in the primaries, has up and quit politics, citing the GOP’s swing to the right. But is that a fair accusation? Perry Nouis, chairman of the Morrison County Republican Party, responds: “Paul (Koering) is correct in saying the party has taken a turn to the right.” Koering was defeated in a campaign that went so negative that it was condemned by Paul Gazelka, Koering’s opponent. What was the campaign? Condemning Koering for his support of same-sex marriage. In this instance, the wedge seems to have successfully shoved to the right.

In the arts: Storyteller Kevin Kling, who is something of a local folk hero in the local theater scene, has a show now at the Open Eye Figure Theatre called, appropriately, “Folks and Heroes,” a collection of dramatized folk tales. Betsy Gabler of TC Daily Planet takes a look at the show and likes what she sees: “Kling asks in the program, ‘Are the old stories still relevant?’ and my answer, at least, is ‘Yes! Particularly when they are retold by you.'”

In sports: The AP reports that Sen. Al Franken recently visited the Vikings in their training camp, where he predicted Brett Favre’s return. That must have put the Vikes in good spirits! Let’s see what FOX9 has to say: “Tempers Flare at Vikings Training Camp.” Whoops!