Tuesday, June 07, 2005

An in-depth look at Schweitzer's 2000 run

Professor Craig Wilson of Montana State University at Billings has written a detailed look at the 2000 election in Montana, when Schweitzer narrowly (51%-47%) lost to U.S. Senator Conrad Burns. It's a primer on how the GOP lies, cheats, and steals elections, and also how Dems can fight back.

Schweitzer began the race as a political unknown, 25 points down to Burns. By late September, he had pulled within 9 points of the incumbent. That's when Burns went dirty:

In August, Schweitzer ran an ad featuring him discussing the cost of the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen and saying, “Veterinarians prescribed the exact same medicine for dogs and charge half as much.” Burns’ campaign responded with an ad, created by the same individual who produced with the famous “Willie Horton” ad run against Michael Dukakis in 1988, featuring breast cancer survivors, one of whom said, “Brian Schweitzer misleads women into believing they can get Tamoxifen and other life-saving drugs from their veterinarians at half-price.”
The Republicans began lying, too. Though Schweitzer has an A rating from the NRA, they lied about his record and sent Charlton Heston to campaign against him:

In September, Charlton Heston, President of the NRA, traveled to Montana to campaign for Conrad Burns. Although Brian Schweitzer also opposed gun control and
submitted the organization’s survey, the NRA said they had no record of receiving it. The organization sponsored billboards, radio and television ads, and an active campaign of mass and targeted mailings and e-mails.
Burns tried his hand at lying, too, even about the most trivial things, and even when confronted by a photo proving him wrong:

The negativity of the Senate race assumed comic overtones at the end of the campaign when Burns and Schweitzer could not agree if they had ever met briefly at Schweitzer’s home to have a beer. Burns denied the meeting and when Schweitzer produced pictures of it, he said, “I have never been to his house in my life . . .. (Schweitzer) makes up everything.”
And while Schweitzer had more outside groups running ads for him, he took much less money from PAC's than did Burns (interesting that he took any at all -- he seems to have changed his stance on that), it was Burns that accepted money from some of the most odious groups:

Several asbestos industry groups, including the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution, bankrolled by asbestos and roofing companies, sponsored counter television ads also set in a cemetery, that attacked trial lawyers for their greed and litigiousness. The U. S. Chamber of Commerce also paid for newspaper ads supporting the bill. ... In 1999, Burns [had] cosponsored legislation, supported by various business groups, which limited corporate liability for asbestos-caused illness. ... The issue attracted state and national media coverage and focused attention on Schweitzer, who charged that the legislation was favorable to corporations and noted that asbestos companies had contributed $29,000 to Burns’ campaign.
It was a wild election, with more money than sin flying around. Among other bizarre happenings, the League of Conservation Voters promised Schweitzer $250,000 and then inexplicably withdrew the money and cancelled their ad buys. But in the end, Professor Wilson concludes, Schweitzer's main problem was the unpopularity of Al Gore:

The day following the election some Democratic Party operatives claimed their candidates had been “Bushed.”1 In reality, the losing Democrats appeared to have been “Gored”; one Montana reporter concluded that Gore was “as popular in Montana as a game warden at a hunting camp.”2 The vice president won only 33 percent of the state’s popular vote. In comparison, in 1992, third-party candidate Ross Perot attracted 26 percent of the vote.
The crossover appeal of Schweitzer was evident in the fact that 22 percent of the Bush voters voted for Schweitzer as well (only 7% of Gore voters voted for Burns). Republicans seemed to like Schweitzer's message of "Plain talk, good ideas."

Wilson goes on a bit about "the Trial Lawyers" at times, but still, a worthwhile must-read.


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