Tension Between Democratic Rivals Part of Growing Incivility, Experts Say


ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 13, 2013)—Tension is building between Democratic rivals Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, both vying to become Maryland’s next governor—and it’s likely to escalate as the candidates get closer to the June primary, political observers say.

It’s part of growing incivility in American political life, experts believe.

The Gansler campaign has taken shots at Brown for his leadership of Maryland’s troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, saying he is “ducking responsibility and pointing fingers while tens of thousands of Marylanders cannot get access to health care.”

Gansler also recently released the first negative ad of the gubernatorial race, which criticizes Brown’s management of Maryland’s new health care law.

In response, Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said, “While some are disappointed to see Doug sounding like the Republicans, we hope that [he] will join the effort to get every Marylander affordable health care instead of playing political games with this important issue.”

The Gansler campaign hasn’t been alone in its use of negative tactics. Brown’s campaign has employed a full-time tracker to catch any missteps his opponent makes, said Gansler campaign communications director Bob Wheelock. The Gansler campaign doesn’t deploy one, Wheelock said.

Brown’s campaign manager, Justin Schall, confirmed that the campaign has a tracker—which Schall said was standard in modern political campaigns.

Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Takoma Park, another contender in the race, has largely avoided the conflict.

While negative campaigning has been around since George Washington’s days, it’s gotten worse over time.

“It’s a little bit nastier than I recall from recent races [in Maryland]. They had their disagreements. But I don’t recall it as being as uncivil as this one,” said Laura Hussey, professor of political science at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Despite the incivility between the two candidates, their behavior isn’t a reflection of the type of people they are, Hussey said.

“It’s part of a trend toward greater incivility in our politics that is afflicting everybody,” Hussey said, adding: “Politics is nastier. We can see that [on the national level] in what goes on between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”

“They don’t have the same social ties that they used to. They don’t practice the same norms of politeness and deference,” she said.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., who has been a Maryland legislator since 1975, said he has witnessed incivility grow over the years among politicians in Annapolis.

“Gansler is forced to campaign negatively because the ‘establishment’ has endorsed his opponent,” said Miller, who has endorsed Brown for governor.

Because Gansler is down in the polls, “he needs to gin up his campaign by going negative,” Miller said, adding, “It’s fair game.”

Negative campaign ads can be an effective strategy to win an election, but incivility has an adverse effect on the electorate, said Bryan Gervais, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Gervais said incivility in political discussions and political campaigns has an unfavorable effect on the public.

When people hear negative comments from the opposing party, it makes them angry, causing them to be less likely to be open minded and more unwilling to compromise, Gervais said.

It also causes those who are turned off by incivility in politics to be less likely to participate, Gervais said.

The result is that you get an active citizenry that is more polarized and partisan, and another set of people who aren’t interested in politics at all, he said.

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