November 13, 2018
Havre Daily News
Two long-time acquaintances and collaboraters, even friends, faced off in this month’s general election and had some comments about modern campaigning, the negative turn it has taken and what – if anything – can be done about it.
Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, and Havre Democrat Paul Tuss were talking about the campaign even before the interview in Havre started Sunday, commiserating about how to track down all of their campaign signs and how to get them removed.
With a few provisional ballots yet to be counted, the uncanvassed total in absentee and poll ballots gave Tempel the win by 139 votes in a very close race, 4,493-4,354.
Tuss congratulated Tempel Sunday on his victory.
But despite the close race, contrary to a flux of negative campaigning in the state – nearly $40 million was spent by political action committees, mostly in attack ads, in the U.S. Senate race in which incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., defeated Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge – neither Tempel nor Tuss attacked the other during their campaigns.
“Why would I do that?” Tempel asked. “He was a good candidate.”
Tempel said his focus during his campaign was on his voting record and what he would do if re-elected.
Tuss said he focused on the issues he wanted to focus on if elected, not on his opponent.
“In everything I did and everything I said, and I think Russ was the same way, I attempted to make sure this was an above-board race rather than a below-the-belt race.”
But both said the negative campaigning impacted them.
“When I went door to door, people were getting tired of the rhetoric from the fence, to the point where they almost were hostile to me because of that. It wasn’t because of Paul or myself,” Tempel said. ” … People saying, ‘What were you thinking?’ Well, it’s not me thinking like that.”
“As we got closer and closer and closer to the general election,” Tuss said, “I had people, when I walked up to the door – and I had never been there before – they just said, ‘Nope, were done. We don’t want to see another politician we don’t want to hear about another politician.'”
Tuss said he hasn’t seen mudslinging in local races, but there are two answers – organizations are sending out mailers without being coordinated with the candidates.
“You don’t look like Nancy Pelosi,” Tempel said.
PACS sent out mailers in the SD 14 race attacking the candidates, for example, comparing Tuss to Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, or talking about Tempel siding with big business instead of working for his constituents.
“They did it on both sides,” Tuss said. “I think what happens is you have organizations out there statewide trying to sling mud when local candidates are just trying to get their message out. And I don’t think people really appreciate it.
“I was as surprised as anybody when I saw it in the mailbox,” he added.
“Well, if you go into the post office, the trash cans are just piled with it,” Tempel said. “Are they worth sending out?”
Tuss said a problem is the people receiving the mailers don’t know who sent them.
He said he was trying to get his message out, but people received mailers attacking Tempel’s voting record – which surprised him as much as Tempel – but the people don’t know that and think he is now slinging mud.
The conservative PACs apparently thought it would help Tempel, Tuss said, to equate him with Nancy Pelosi – “Yeah, that was bizarre,” Tempel said – but he thinks it doesn’t help.
“They must think that it works, but I don’t think people at the local level appreciate it, I really don’t,” he said. “I haven’t heard one person say, ‘Oh, I wish there would be more negative campaigning.'”
But the two agreed that not much can be done.
“It’s not going to go away,” Tempel said. “I’d like it to.”
Tuss said that, with the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision equating campaigning to free speech, including for corporations, and an increasing conservative U.S. Supreme Court in place, not much can be done.
“It’s the law of the land,” he said.
Tempel said even if people tried to change things, it probably would continue.
“They’d find ways around it,” he said.
He did say one thing that might help would be to limit outside expenditures to the amount raised in the district of the race.
Tuss said he would like to see public campaign financing as it is done in some other countries, which would limit the amount of money used.
He said he thinks the mudslinging will continue, but Montanans want it to stop. He saw that during his campaign, he added.
“An overarching concern that became apparent to me when I went door-to-door … was people are sick and tired of politics as usual and people are sick and tired of how hyper-partisan the national politics has become,” Tuss said.
“You know, Russ and I can disagree, but we can do it agreeably,” he added. ” … I’m not sure Russ and I see eye-to-eye on everything, but the truth of the matter is, is that you can have legitimate differences of opinion without being enemies of one another. And I think that people legitimately want that to be the politics of, at least, Montana. Because they don’t see that on a national level. It’s a mudslinging contest back there.”