Mayor Bill Finch’s reelection operatives dropped more campaign attacks on Democratic primary opponent Mary-Jane Foster the past few days questioning in a mail piece her effectiveness as owner of the Bridgeport Bluefish and a lit drop in African American neighborhoods claiming she’s really a Republican. Foster’s husband Jack McGregor was a lifelong Republican before switching a few months ago to a Dem to vote for his wife. Foster herself has strong Democratic credentials.
This campaign warfare is intriguing because my Finch friends say we’re way ahead in the polls, no problem, we have this in the bag. Really? An experienced campaign team is not going to unload on an opponent if they’re in fact way ahead, would they? To do otherwise is sorta like taking a sledgehammer to a mosquito … if you hit it. But what if you don’t hit it? You risk the mosquito coming back around to collect its pint of blood.
When an incumbent is comfortably ahead you don’t gain additional margins by going negative, you gain by rising above the fray, running on your record, making folks feel good about the future of the city, giving them an incentive to reelect you. You go negative when you’re behind or when it’s close. Unless you let your ego get ahead of the correct strategy.
One of two things is going on here. The Finch campaign is floating fibs about its polling and needs to place a dent in Foster. Or two, political handlers seek retribution for Foster’s negatives against Finch, damn the potential consequences of turning off your own supporters. Nothing of substance happens in the Finch campaign unless Finch’s chief strategist Adam Wood signs off. If he wants to attack, they attack. If he wants to play nice, they play nice. Bill Finch is the most powerful man in Bridgeport city government. Wood, as his chief of staff and closest adviser, is second.
The Foster campaign has made an issue of Wood being a key player at the center of its elections complaint claiming Finch has an improper financial relationship with a political action committee controlled by Finch friend and campaign contributor Bill Beccaro who has inexplicably propped up his octogenarian parents as officers of the PAC. The Foster camp has dubiously included Wood’s wife in news releases and allegations about Finch and associates receiving improper reimbursements and payments. The State Election Enforcement Commission is examining whether the allegations have merit. Bringing wives into a complaint, unless they are directly involved public officials, adds personal nitro to the mix. It’s human nature to want to respond, if not challenging the allegation directly, through a counterstrike. Wood and Foster’s campaign manager Jason Bartlett don’t appear to like one another. They served as co-chairs of Hillary Clinton’s presidential operation in Connecticut. Barack Obama won the Connecticut primary.
Do attacks stick? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Wood was a campaign strategist for Ned Lamont’s failed gubernatorial campaign last year. Lamont dropped a negative hit on Dan Malloy claiming Malloy improperly received home improvements from city contractors when he was mayor of Stamford. Lamont ran with it even though the case was vetted years ago by state law enforcement officials who cleared Malloy of any wrongdoing. Just because a poll shows a negative attack could move voters doesn’t mean it will definitely work. It depends how it’s presented.
The fact is Finch shouldn’t even have a race. He has all the advantages of incumbency: boatloads of money, support from the political payroll and most of the Democratic political organization including chairman Mario Testa and his extensive, if dubious, absentee ballot operation.
One thing’s for sure, the next two weeks leading up to primary day September 27 promises more charges and countercharges.