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Tuesday September 28, 2010

The general election is still five weeks away, but things have gotten ugly on the campaign trail.

Today’s topic du jour: negative campaigning. Some experts are already calling this the ugliest campaign season in decades, focusing specifically on those running for the state’s highest office, that of governor.

It’s a complete about-face from several weeks ago, as a slate of highly capable contenders for the Democratic ticket ran strong, fairly similar campaigns focused on their strengths, what they hoped to bring to the table and, most importantly, the issues facing the state and Vermonters.

A day after the election, with a recount looming, the quintet appeared in a unified front, pushing a message of Vermont first. These days, it feels like mudslinging galore on an almost daily basis, between front-runners Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin. Although, to be fair, it’s more like Dubie vs. a faceless Democratic entity poised behind Shumlin.

Political scientist Eric Davis, Monday, told WCAX that the reason the tone has turned so sour this year is because each "side" has brought political operatives from out of state. "Washington, D.C. -based campaign operatives believe negative campaigning works," he said. "That may be true in most parts of the country. I don’t know whether it’s true in Vermont."

And, as Davis points out, once the election is over these operatives will move on to the next election cycle in some other corner of the country while Vermont, its people, Legislature and new governor will be left to put the pieces back together.

We aren’t going to use this space today to place blame, or to play a finger pointing game of he said, he said, though many letter writers have already taken sides and started to assess the situation as they see it. That’s all well and good. Instead, this is a call to all candidates to put an end to the negative campaigning. No good can come from it, and instead it serves only to obfuscate the real issues facing Vermont and the next governor.

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"I really want to be governor of Vermont, but I’m not going to use fear and distortion to become governor of Vermont," Shumlin told us on Monday. He claims Dubie is running TV and radio ads "that are patently untrue, and (which) put fear in the hearts of Vermonters." Shumlin said that Dubie’s campaign tactics are unlike anything seen before in Vermont, and promised "to run an issues-oriented campaign."

It is our opinion that Dubie’s ads do seem to stretch the truth while pulling damning soundbites out of context. But Shumlin’s hands are far from clean, given that ads and e-mails critical of Dubie, originating from sources interested in getting Democrats elected to all offices in the state, are being run seemingly on his behalf.

Remember, in an election, appearances are everything, so if Shumlin is truly is interested in an "issues only" campaign, he’d do best to distance himself from the muckraking.

In the end, it is the people of Vermont who will benefit the most from a clean campaign. There’s no lack of important issues and topics to debate. Vermont’s energy future. The future of our health care.

The budget. Job creation. Business growth. Retirement funds.

Education costs. Vermont Yankee. Each candidate has drastically differing views on those topics. That’s what Vermonters need to hear.

Not the latest drunk driving allegation or whether one candidate wants to release sex predators back into society to save a buck (which simply is not true).

To paraphrase what Davis told WCAX: Is any candidate hurting their chances by running a negative campaign? We won’t know until election day. But if things continue in this vein, we all lose.