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On false attacks, too much funding and fickle voters

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

The following are some observations/lessons/takeaways from last week’s primary election:

1. First, political candidates can say a lot of things. But what they can’t say – and not run the risk of backfiring — are outright lies that assume voters are too ill-informed to know the difference between truth and falsehood. We assume Scott Dacey has finally figured this out following his drubbing in the 3rd Congressional District Republican primary on Tuesday. Dacey lobbed a lot of false attacks against incumbent Walter Jones, accusing the longtime congressman of sharing the views of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and having ties to billionaire-donor-to-liberal-causes George Soros. But Republican voters aren’t as ill-informed as Dacey imagined. He finished third in the three-candidate race.

2. Running for public office as a Republican after donating generously to Democrats apparently only works for Donald Trump. Just ask Clark Twiddy. The Dare County businessman never could right his campaign for state Senate in District 1 after his opponent, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, brought up Twiddy’s past contributions to powerful Democrats like Marc Basnight and Roy Cooper, the latter when he was the state’s attorney general. Twiddy tried unsuccessfully, as Trump did successfully, to explain the contributions as a way to further his business interests. Unfortunately for Twiddy, what worked for Trump can’t be easily replicated. Steinburg swamped him in the 11-county Senate District 1, largely because he was able to convince GOP voters Twiddy wasn’t a “real” Republican. Twiddy spent a lot of his own money on his campaign — more than $118,000 according to his last campaign report — but likely the money he regrets spending the most were those donations years ago to Democrats.

3. Speaking of raising and spending money, it’s not a given that the candidate who raises and spends the most, wins. Just ask Brent McKecuen. The candidate for Pasquotank sheriff far out-raised and outspent his three rivals in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, collecting more than $19,500 and spending more than $14,000 on his campaign. Yet, he still lost to Eddie Graham, who raised only a little more than a third of what McKecuen raised. Certainly there were other factors at play in Graham’s victory — third-place finisher Todd Wagner likely siphoned off some critical votes — but the fact remains: no matter how much money or endorsements you collect, voters still have the final say.

4. Speaking of voters, after two previous tries, they finally got it right in Pasquotank on Tuesday by approving a referendum that allows county commissioners to impose an additional quarter-penny of sales tax on most retail purchases. Pasquotank commissioners have vowed to spend the estimated $1 million in extra revenue a year the quarter-penny will bring on education. Either because they finally saw the dire straights the schools are in, or believed their property taxes would go up if they didn’t support the sales tax hike, more voters apparently now believe the extra tax revenue will be spent on education. There’s still a lot of skepticism, however. The referendum only passed by 103 votes, and it failed in every county precinct but two among election-day voters, passing only because it built up an early 200-plus vote lead during early voting.

5. While Pasquotank voters made up their minds about new taxes, it’s not clear what voters in Currituck County want. For a number of election cycles in a row now, Currituck voters have tossed out a commissioner after a single term. Mike Hall, who booted Butch Petry in the 2014 election after a single term, was himself booted on Tuesday after a single term by Kevin McCord. McCord of course is a former commissioner who resigned in 2014 less than halfway into his four-year term. Even more noteworthy is the election of former commissioner Owen Etheridge to the commission’s District 5 seat. Etheridge booted — you guessed it — an incumbent commissioner, Marion Gilbert, who was seeking, in what now seems like a lifetime in Currituck politics, a third term. What’s strange about Etheridge’s election is that Currituck voters seemed to make up their minds about him just two years ago, when he lost his second GOP primary in a row. Thanks to his win on Tuesday, Etheridge will be starting a third separate stint on the board this November.

6. Someone who may not be around when Etheridge arrives is the commission’s current chairman, Bobby Hanig. Hanig won the GOP primary in state House District 6 on Tuesday, and if he goes on to win in November, he’ll be headed to Raleigh. Turns out Hanig may have had one of the easiest roads to victory of any challenger taking on an incumbent lawmaker in Tuesday’s primary election. That’s because his opponent was Beverly Boswell, a Dare Republican who ran a trainwreck of a campaign that seemed to mirror her single two-year term in the Legislature. Boswell’s inability to listen to constituents or care what they had to say was already a liability heading into the campaign. Her decision to constantly lob untrue attacks at Hanig had about as much success as Dacey’s attacks on Jones did. Moreover, Boswell’s inability to tell the truth about her own occupation — her campaign several times referred to her as a nurse when she’s in fact a medical assistant — and her incoherent, untruthful attack on a group of high school students, slandering their sincere efforts to honor the victims of the Parkland school shooting as a promotion of violent action against gun owners, helped convince any voters still on the fence that Hanig was the only legitimate choice for the House seat.

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