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Archive for Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Election stretch

October 15, 2002

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In search of an election victory, some candidates are likely to try an end-run around the truth.

With the 2002 election campaign heading into the home stretch, things are likely to get a little confusing for voters.

Three weeks from today, Kansas voters will head to the polls to elect their top state leaders for the next four years. Seats in the Kansas House and U.S. House of Representatives also are at stake. Many of these races are highly competitive, which means candidates will be delivering hard-edged and sometimes negative messages about their opponents in the weeks to come. It will become increasingly difficult for voters to separate fact from fiction.

Two pages in Sunday's Journal-World were devoted to a series of questions with answers provided by both gubernatorial candidates. The Journal-World and others are trying to help voters by putting campaign claims to the "truth test." But as the end of the campaign nears, ads are bound to become more negative and make claims that stretch the truth in various ways.

Voting records, for instance, can be highly deceptive. Both candidates for Kansas governor served in the state Legislature, which gave them the opportunity to vote dozens, if not hundreds, of times on different issues. Like statistics, when taken out of context, votes can present an inaccurate picture of an issue.

Lawmakers vote against bills for many reasons other than that they oppose the basic premise of the bill. They may be hoping for a better version of the bill, they could be concerned about where funding will come from or any of a dozen other reasons.

Quotes, taken out of context, also can be unfairly used against a candidate. The kind of 15- to 30-second message required for campaign advertising also is the perfect vehicle for half-truths or negative nuances.

It's an unfortunate part of the campaign game. Most candidates make an effort to craft memorable sound bites that positively present their own attributes and qualifications for office. But politicians don't get into races to lose, and history has shown that negative campaigning works.

This year's campaigns in Kansas have been relatively tame, but in recent days, more ads are focusing on the weaknesses of opponents than on the strengths of the candidate. It's a good time for both candidates and voters to take stock.

Kansas voters are better served by positive, issue-oriented campaigns for its top offices. It's the duty of candidates to try to present such a campaign, but it's also the duty of voters to carefully evaluate the information the candidates serve up and not be deceived by negative claims or misrepresented "facts."

Kansas voters, after all, will have the last word when they head to the polls on Nov. 5.

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