2 candidates face question of what is really negative County councilmen deny ad tactics attack opponents

September 10, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

County executive candidate Charles C. Feaga has repeatedly said he would never "go negative" in his Republican primary battle with fellow Councilman Dennis R. Schrader. But political observers say Feaga is coming close to doing just that.

In the last six days, with Tuesday's primary fast approaching, Feaga has sent two mailings to Republican voters that take aim at Schrader by implication if not by name.

"Some politicians think that negative advertising wins elections," says a postcard sent yesterday. "Fortunately, Charlie Feaga isn't just another politician."

A mailing sent last Friday reads: "Some politicians think high paid pollsters should control the issues. [Feaga] believes in honestly representing your best interests, not the 'market trends' of the professional campaign consultants."

Both are references to Schrader, who employs political consultants, has conducted polls and focus groups and is airing a television advertisement characterizing Feaga as "the developers' friend."

"It's sort of a nice way of being negative, if that's possible," said Robert Ardinger, who teaches politics at Howard Community College. "It's kind of like hitting with a silk glove on."

Ardinger, though, said the ad may resonate with the hard-core Republican primary voters who have lived in the county long enough to remember an era before modern politicking.

"It may really get to some of those folks," Ardinger said. "When [Feaga] starts talking about professional politicians, it kind of rings a bell to them."

Schrader, however, seemed unconcerned yesterday.

"Doesn't sound negative to me," he said. "It doesn't have my name, does it?"

Schrader defends his use of pollsters as a form of "customer service," and he points out that he has learned from knocking on more than 3,500 doors of Republican voters during the campaign. He says the polls and door-to-door campaigning have told him the same thing, that voters care about "growth, education and taxes."

Schrader has sent several mailings in the last week that tout his record on education and managing growth. But in contrast to his television commercial, they avoid references to Feaga.

Schrader's supporters say that contrary to the implication of Feaga's mailing, they don't believe they've done any negative advertising, including the television commercial.

"I would hardly call running an ad where you contrast the positions of two candidates 'negative advertising,' " said Columbia pollster Brad Coker, a Schrader adviser. Coker theorizes that the Feaga campaign conceived these mailings after seeing the television advertisement and figuring Schrader was about to really go negative.

Feaga, though, said he would have sent these mailings even if Schrader hadn't run his television commercial or hired political consultants. He insisted the rhetoric has nothing to do with Schrader.

"I'm speaking of politicians in general," said Feaga, whose mailings are crafted by a paid advertising consultant, Ken Mays. "I think we've given ourselves a bad reputation, and I don't want to be a part of that."

Media consultant Roger Caplan, who is advising some Republican candidates this year but doesn't work for Feaga or Schrader, said Feaga is making a point about Schrader, but perhaps too subtly to hit home with many average voters.

"On a direct mail piece if you want to make a point about your opponent, make it," Caplan said. "It's just not a hit. If you're going to do a hit, it's like you're in a football game. Just hit the guy."

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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