A sure sign that campaigns are out of control

August 31, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

As if things aren't crazy enough in the Free State, we now find ourselves putting up with campaign signs on steroids.

Have you seen some of these monster signs?

Wait, what am I saying? Of course you've seen them.

They're so big, people in Wyoming can see them.

People in Fiji can probably see them.

On a single stretch of York Road in Towson the other day - and isn't York Road more and more resembling downtown Tijuana, only with worse traffic? - there was a huge sign urging voters to "Keep the Sitting Judges: Cahill, Ensor, Martin, Norman."

Next to that was a huge "Governor Ehrlich - Changing Maryland for the Better" sign and a huge "Re-elect Fisher for Sheriff" sign and a huge "Brochin for Senate" sign.

Not far away was a huge "Jim Smith for Baltimore County Executive" sign and a huge "Leadership That Works, O'Malley-Brown For Maryland" sign and then a huge "Paliath, Delegate, District 42" sign.

And not far from them was a "Best Buy" sign.

Oh, wait, Best Buy isn't running for office.

You know how you could tell?


The Best Buy sign was so much smaller and more tasteful-looking than the other signs.

"This is new," says Herb C. Smith, professor of political science at McDaniel College in Westminster, of the oversized campaign signs sprouting everywhere. "I'm thinking there are going to be a few Maryland jurisdictions looking at square-foot limitations in signs in residential areas."

Oh, you betcha.

Actually, there are size restrictions in place already. But they could definitely enforce them better. And they could start not far from my neighborhood, where immense Ehrlich and O'Malley signs loom like dueling billboards across the street from each other.

Nobody seems to know why this happens to be the year of the Sasquatch campaign signs - although Smith's theory is as good as anyone else's.

"A campaign consultant got a bright idea: Bigger is better," he says. "And they came up with the Hummer of signs."

Well, here's hoping they start downsizing these babies soon, to MINI Cooper size, at least.

Look, I don't care what your politics are when it comes to these signs.

I don't care if you're a tree-hugging lefty or a lock-jawed conservative or, God forbid, a centrist.

I don't care if you're a Democrat, Republican, independent, Green Party supporter, or you're holed up in your basement somewhere with the NAFTA agreement and a copy of the federal budget, waiting for Ross Perot to make a comeback on Larry King's show.

The point is this: Do we really need these monster campaign signs - some of them are so big (8-foot-by-4-foot) you could throw a sheet over them and show movies - cluttering up the roadsides?

Here's the other thing I want to know: Do they do any good?

Do they influence voters at all?

If you're zipping down the road and you see a Mount Rushmore-sized "Keep the sitting judges, Cahill, Ensor, Martin, Norman" sign, are you any more likely to pull the lever for those people once you get in the voting booth?

"Signs alone, no, they won't get you elected," says Smith. "Signs coupled with door-to-door campaigning, receptions, coffees, direct mail ... maybe."

Well, OK.

But you know what my reaction is when I see these signs?

I get annoyed at how obnoxiously large they are.


And I want to tear them all down and take 'em to the dump.

That's right, I get steamed as I pass all these big stupid signs when driving down York Road, instead of all the classy Burger King, Blockbuster, 7-Eleven, Shell, etc. signs I'm used to seeing.

OK, that was a joke.

But, seriously, where's this whole trend of supersized campaign signs heading?

Do the election committees keep making them bigger and bigger, caught up in some kind of insane campaign-sign arms race?

Will the next election season feature 10-foot-by-15-foot signs - maybe on scaffolding! - so they loom overhead everywhere and blot out the sun?

Right now I'm almost leaning this way:

The first candidate who stands up and says, "I promise to make my campaign signs smaller and less annoying" gets my vote.


To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd

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