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Capitol Insider: Debunking Campaign Tactics Ahead Of the General Election

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Oklahoma Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson speaks during a candidate forum in Oklahoma City, Friday, Aug. 24, 2018. At left is Republican candidate Kevin Stitt.

In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU’s Dick Pryor speaks with political scientist Dr. Keith Gaddie of the University of Oklahoma. The two dissect campaign activity leading up to the general election on Nov 6, including negative ads, push polls and the influx of dark money.

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor and our special 'Oklahoma Engaged' reporting continues with Dr. Keith Gaddie, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. Welcome.

Keith Gaddie: Hey, Dick. It's good to be here.

Pryor: Good to have you with us. We're heading into the final month before the general election with four weeks to go. What will be the focus of the statewide campaigns, especially the governor's race?

Gaddie: The gubernatorial race is close. It's within the margin of error right now, and that means the campaigns will turn decisively negative. We've seen that unfolding. And what's going to be happening is candidates going to be focused on two things. The first one is mobilizing their own vote and ensuring that it's there. Consolidate that base. And the second thing is trying to find a way to mobilize her keep the other guy's voters away. So a lot of what we're going to see in the campaign isn't going to be so much about persuading people as reinforcing the predisposition of the voters in the Oklahoma electorate.

Pryor: A TV ad in heavy rotation is one connecting Mary Fallon to Kevin Stitt regarding education. It's paid for by the Democratic Governors Association to help Drew Edmondson. Does that kind of approach work.?

Gaddie: It can. When you do a negative ad that's on issue or on political identity they tend to work. Governor Fallin is an incredibly unpopular governor, and this means for Mr. Stitt as a Republican nominee, it's logical that the Democrats would attempt to tie him as closely to Mary Fallon as possible and that's what this commercial attempts to do.

Pryor: At this point, are statewide campaigns largely a television arms race?

Gaddie: Well it's a TV arms race, but the ground game and the mail game are every bit as important. Talking to somebody in person, either the candidate or one of the candidates, a candidate's surrogate, even an activist, is the best way to get somebody to vote and vote for your candidate. The next best way is to contact them via mail. The next best way is a phone call contact.

Pryor: Keith, Oklahoma Watch has found that dark money groups have spent almost three million dollars in Oklahoma campaigns. And that was in August. Do you think we'll see more money from dark money groups?

Gaddie: Although absolutely come in. And to clarify, what a dark money group is, is it's a group that creates a political action committee or a super PAC or some other form of a tax-exempt campaign committee. They can just suddenly crop up out of nowhere, make a very large advertising buy, then fold their tents. We're never really sure who they were. And we've seen that activity underway a great deal since about 2013. There was a case called a Speechnow.org that came out of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the one that Brett Kavanaugh sits on, in which the court ruled that these organizations don't have to disclose who their donors are if they don't spend most of the money.

Pryor: This is the time of year when a lot of voters will be getting phone calls from polling firms. Some of these calls legitimately seek information, but others are driving a message in the form of a poll. They're push polls.

Gaddie: Right. Yeah and a push poll is not a poll. Let's start with that. A push poll is a poll that isn't designed to gather information or opinion from the public, but instead to shape it and persuade it. And it does so by asking biased or slanted questions with regard to the target of the poll. OK? Push polling is highly unethical. So, if I were a legitimate pollster, I would ask the question in the upcoming gubernatorial race of the following candidates which one are you most likely to vote for? A push poll would say, so are you going to vote for Drew Edmondson for governor? Yes or no? Would you vote for your Edmondson if you knew... and then we put in some particularly scurrilous, unethical, immoral or other activity in there, whether it's true or not. What it attempts to do is to condition the response of the voter by giving them hypotheticals to respond to that's designed to shape their opinion.

Pryor: Every election cycle it seems there's something new in campaigning. What do you think we'll be seeing this year. That people will be talking about following the 2018 elections, that is that is new or innovative?

Gaddie: Well it's the ability to respond quickly. It's the use of digital media in particular. Facebook, as much as Facebook's content has become poisoned, people still use it, especially people who are likely to vote, right? People over the age of 40 are most likely to use that social media platform. Down in Texas we saw this with the Ted Cruz Beto O'Rourke campaign last week where in response to a set of attacks against O'Rourke he just went straight to the studio cut a bunch of highly targeted Facebook ads and then sent them out targeted into the types of voters he needed to respond to. So digital media has gotten to the point where it's mature and it's nimble.

Pryor: Keith we'll hear more from you on election night, when you'll be one of our analysts. Thanks very much.

Gaddie: Thank you. Take care.

Pryor:  That's Capitol Insider. Over the next three weeks we'll be interviewing the three party nominees for governor Drew Edmondson, Kevin Stitt and Chris Powell. If you have any questions you'd like for us to ask the candidates. E-mail your questions to news@kgou.org. Until next time, I'm Dick Pryor.


Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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