HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – There’s an old saying that the truth is the first casualty of war. Perhaps that needs to be expanded to political campaigns as well.
A slew of ads has flooded local airways and the mailboxes of Republican primary voters in the 31st Senatorial District in Cumberland and York counties.
The GOP primary to replace retiring Senator Patricia Vance likely decides the election because there are no announced Democrats running. There are four candidates:
- State Representative Mike Regan
- Former NFL football player Jon Ritchie
- Cumberland County dentist Brice Arndt
- York County attorney Scott Harper
Many of those ads and mailers aren’t pretty.
Lots of them aren’t true.
So we brought in the ABC27 Fact Checker to sort through the claims and counter-claims.
The Regan campaign’s most recent television ad attacking Jon Ritchie slaps the former football star’s picture on the screen with Governor Tom Wolf and links them audibly numerous times.
It begins, “Meet Tom Wolf’s favorite Republican, liberal Jon Ritchie.”
(For the record, ABC27 checked and Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says Ritchie and Wolf have never met.)
But the ad suggests that Ritchie is too close to Wolf in an attempt to scare away conservative primary voters.
Ritchie’s campaign returns the favor with a mailer showing Wolf and Regan sitting side-by-side at a bill signing.
Both are wrong, says longtime GOP campaign consultant Christopher Nicholas, who has no dog in this particular fight and agreed to analyze the campaign to date.
“I don’t think any of these candidates are gonna be very helpful to Tom Wolf should they get into the state Senate,” he said.
Regan blasts Richie for taking money from unions, a bit disingenuous since Regan takes money from police unions. Regan’s message is that Ritchie blocks pension reform and liquor privatization, even though Regan has participated in several debates were Ritchie has clearly stated that he supports pension reform and liquor privatization, which unions oppose.
But linking Ritchie, who’s endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (statewide teachers union) and the AFL-CIO, is smart strategy, Nicholas says, even if it’s clear that Ritchie doesn’t support the union agenda.
An Arndt mailer also slams Ritchie for his union ties, concluding, “a vote for Jon Ritchie is a vote for unions and liberal special interests.”
“A majority of Republican primary voters do not want their elected officials to have an open door with the unions,” Nicholas said. “They understand that the union agenda is totally different than the conservative agenda they support.”
Ritchie’s campaign is also guilty of not telling the whole story. A mailer says Regan voted to raise your personal income tax. It ignores the fact that he voted for a bill that would hike income and sales taxes in exchange for the complete elimination of property taxes, which many conservatives support.
A Ritchie TV spot shows a bunch of well-dressed men in a bar toasting while the announcer suggests that Regan is too cozy with Harrisburg insiders and lobbyists. A mailer criticizes him for trying to buy the election and spending more than $100,000 on the election.
Well, Ritchie’s campaign is being run by the powerful lobbying firm Long-Nyquist Associates, the ultimate Harrisburg insider, and is also spending well into six figures.
“If you’re polling says it works, Dennis, you have an obligation to do it in the campaign,” Nicholas said, “and then people like you can shout about being disingenuous, but no one is voting for the firm that made this mail piece or that TV ad, they’re voting for their client.”
The campaign began a few months ago on a positive note with beautifully shot TV ads introducing the candidates and their families to the voters. They have gone increasingly negative, which Nicholas says is normal. He’s seen both of their latest shots at each other and is unimpressed.
“Both of their attack ads have been cheesy and thin,” Nicholas said, attributing it to the fact that none of the candidates has much of a political track record, so they try to distinguish themselves on a personal level.
Political operatives also insist that going negative works, which may say more about the electorate than the candidates.
So, expect the name calling in bold print and unflattering photos in black-and-white to continue on the air and in the mailbox. It’ll be Jon Ritchie the liberal union lover and Mike Regan the typical politician until the primary, April 26.
Nicholas did complement Regan’s ad showing him in a boxing ring, teaching his son the ropes as the best he’s seen so far. But even that ad is now inaccurate because the gloves have most certainly come off.