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Political theater: campaign rhetoric versus the reality of performance

Heaven help us, my Mississippi district is faced with another political campaign — more incessant TV commercials by a gaggle of candidates seeking a congressional seat, all trying to one-up each other on their conservative bona fides.

There are 13 (!) candidates in the special election for the House seat vacated by the recent death of Alan Nunnelee. Mercifully, the campaign period is short compared to a general election contest; voting day is May 12. Given the extensive candidate roster, a runoff between the two top vote getters is almost foregone. That would be June 2.

In special elections, candidates aren’t required to file by party affiliation, but all except one are generally considered Republican, as expected in a state solidly in the GOP camp for decades.

 Farming the Arkansas Delta - Photos by Brittney Turner
Farming the Arkansas Delta - Photos by Brittney Turner

As is the case with most campaigns for major office, the race will probably come down to who’s the best-known and who can raise the most money for expensive TV time and all the other campaign necessities.

In the best-known category are probably Mike Tagert, currently serving as transportation commissioner for the state’s northern district; Trent Kelly, a district attorney with strong military support; and Boyce Adams, president of a software technology company, who served as a special assistant to the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration during the George W. Bush administration. All apparently have strong financial backing and/or money of their own; Adams is reported primed to spend half a million dollars of his own money on the campaign.

In the TV ads already running, the predominant theme, incorporating all the hot button issues, is “I will fight to…” repeal Obamacare, protect family values, restore fiscal integrity a la Ronald Reagan, dismantle oppressive federal regulations, abolish the Common Core education standard, etc., etc., but no insight as to how a freshman Mississippi congressman with no seniority or influence can hope to accomplish those lofty goals.

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But the realities of the system have never been much a consideration in the theater that is Mississippi politicking. Nor, apparently, is voter consideration of why already successful and/or wealthy people hanker for a thankless job in a governmental body that enjoys a public approval rating lower than that of used car salesmen (but hey, members of Congress get great healthcare, unlike many of their constituents).

And once elected for only a two-year term, barely enough time to find one’s way around Capitol Hill, House members have to immediately plunge into strategizing and fund-raising for a reelection campaign, which can take a significant amount of their time. MapLight, a non-partisan research organization that studies money and politics, says House members who were elected in 2012 to the 113th Congress averaged raising $1.6 million.

There are call centers a stone’s throw from the capitol where House and Senate members, a la telemarketers, make call after call soliciting money from supporters. And then there are the fund-raising breakfasts, lunches, receptions, etc., providing opportunities for lobbyists to casually slip checks into hands.

A recent survey showed the American public with an 86 percent disapproval of Congress’ performance. Queried about trust that their political leaders make the right decisions, respondents gave Republicans only a 13 percent positive rating and Democrats only 17 percent — both less than President Obama’s unremarkable 29 percent. Respondents listed the two top influences for members of Congress as “personal self-interest” and “special interests.”

Overall grade for Congress: D.

TAGS: Agenda
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