CHARLESTON — As the May 10 primaries approach in West Virginia, U.S. Representatives David McKinley and Alex Mooney drive through the new 2nd District and introduce themselves to new voters. But the first thing most voters will see will be the onslaught of negative ads and direct mail on TV and radio.
The campaign to win the Republican primary between McKinley, in his sixth term representing the former 1st congressional district, and Mooney, in his fourth term representing the former 2nd congressional district, has been ugly since the Virginia Legislature -Occidental combined parts of their district into the new 2nd District North.
Mooney began airing TV ads attacking McKinley for being one of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote for the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November. The bill was also supported by Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., but he was opposed by Mooney and 3rd District Rep. Carol Miller, who has her own Republican primary in the new 1st Congressional District South. “(McKinley) betrayed you,” says the announcer on a Mooney ad. “McKinley backed (President Joe) Biden on a $1 trillion spending spree that is creating record inflation. David McKinley sold us.
Mooney also attacked McKinley for his vote to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump to prevent certification of the 2020 election for Biden, a former vice president and U.S. senator. The bill failed, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead created a select committee to investigate on Jan. 6, which McKinley opposes.
On the other hand, McKinley attacked Mooney over the House Ethics Committee’s ongoing investigation of Mooney for allegedly improper campaign finance expenditures, the use of congressional and campaign staff for personal errands and the obstruction of investigations by the Congressional Ethics Office.
Mooney has maintained his innocence, and the House Ethics Committee is expected to release its findings later in May. But in a McKinley campaign ad, he claims Mooney is under “federal investigation” despite the fact that it is unclear whether there are any federal criminal investigations into Mooney beyond the congressional investigation. The same ad, along with others, also hit Mooney for being a career politician, having been a Maryland lawmaker for many years and a failed congressional candidate in New Hampshire and Maryland. The ad quotes a 2014 Forbes magazine article “Alex Mooney: The Portrait of a Political Prostitute.
“Mooney, an opportunistic career politician who never had a job outside of politics”, the announcer on an ad says. “He ran for office in three different states. Mooney moved from Maryland to West Virginia so he could be elected to Congress. Mooney is now under federal investigation for breaking the law. Maryland Sen. Alex Mooney: For himself, not for West Virginia.
A look at the two YouTube accounts for the McKinley and Mooney campaigns show no ads where the two candidates introduce themselves to voters, explain their backgrounds and qualifications, and ask for votes from new voters in the combined district who have never seen the name of McKinley or Mooney on a ballot. The ads are all attacks on other candidates.
Scott Widmeyer, the founding managing partner of FINN Partners in Washington DC, is the co-founder of the Bonnie and Bill Stubblefield Institute for Civilian Political Communications at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. A native of Martinsburg, Widmeyer watched the race between McKinley and Mooney with disappointment.
This disappointment led Widmeyer to write an op-ed for The Journal in Martinsburg in March, criticizing both McKinley and Mooney for the race tone, negative campaign publicity and lack of any real substantive discussion of the issues facing face West Virginia in the new district. .
More than a month after writing that op-ed, Widmeyer said the vitriol hasn’t improved.
“I don’t think it has improved” Widmeyer said by phone Thursday. “I think voters in this new district kind of see the worst of the two candidates in terms of their ability to be civil and run a campaign that addresses the issues.”
“I sit on the board of the Stubblefield Institute…and our goal is that we try to create a new storyline not just in West Virginia, but in the country where we get the public to take a much more constructive look at politics and politics. existing system” Widmeyer said. “If we expect the public to do this, we need to have candidates who run issue-oriented campaigns based on facts and not on the name-calling that we have constantly seen from Mr Mooney and Mr McKinley.”
The McKinley and Mooney campaigns are not outliers. Political campaigns, particularly at the congressional level, have become more negative in recent midterm election cycles that fall between presidential elections. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising, the volume of ads between the 2010 and 2018 federal races has increased, with the vast majority of ads being attack ads.
Data from the Wesleyan Media Project shows that more than 450,000 campaign ad plays in 2010 were attack ads compared to around 569,000 attack ad plays in 2018.
Alison Ledgerwood, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, studies the effects of positive and negative messages. In a 2013 article with UC-Davis political science professor Amber Boydstun, Ledgerwood and Boydstun said negative messages stay in the brain better than positive messages. This is true for negative campaign ads. They said a negative message, or “loss frame”, hangs around in the brain longer than a positive message, or “frame gain”, because it is more difficult to counter a negative message with a positive message.
“We propose that loss frames are stickier than gain frames in their ability to shape people’s thinking,” they wrote. “Specifically, we suggest that the effect of a loss frame may persist longer than that of a gain frame in the face of cropping and that this asymmetry may arise because it is more difficult to convert a concept to frame loss into a gain frame concept than the reverse.”
A 2021 study by researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that the tone of an ad makes a huge difference in engagement. Researchers found that if only positive ads had been shown during the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, overall voter turnout would have increased by 50.4%, while the showing of negative ads would have decreased. voter turnout of 48.8%.
“Positive advertisements have a much larger and more significant boosting effect on participation,” said Brett Gordon, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, for the “Kellogg’s Insight” publication. “As citizens, we should be concerned about the motivation of candidates to rely on negative advertising and be aware that this has an influence on our political life.”
“I don’t think the general public likes the idea of these attack ads,” Widmeyer said. “It’s getting old and it’s definitely lowering turnout. In these midterm elections you’re in, you’re probably lucky if you get 30% turnout. »
Widmeyer said the Stubblefield Institute tried to invite McKinley and Mooney to participate in a town hall-style debate, but only McKinley accepted. Instead, the institute invited McKinley and Mooney to participate in separate town hall events. Mooney declined, citing a scheduling conflict that turned out to be a tele-town hall.
McKinley accepted the invitation to the town hall, which took place on Monday evening.
“We desperately tried to get these two candidates to come to Shepherd to do some sort of mayoral debate. Congressman McKinley accepted a debate. Mr. Mooney never accepted that,” Widmeyer said.
Widmeyer said McKinley and Mooney likely show voters a better side of themselves at campaign events, visits with local officials and in public view. But for many voters, the first and only thing they might see of candidates are the ads they see and hear and the letters they receive, leaving an entirely different impression.
“Advertising probably has the biggest impact because that’s where you have the biggest audience,” Widmeyer said. “For example, when McKinley introduced himself to Shepherd the other day, he was very civil in the way he introduced himself, but we had 65 people in the audience and probably a couple hundred more in line, which is not not the case, which pales in comparison to the number of people likely to see the attack ads.”
Despite the attacks, Widmeyer said most voters would be surprised to know there’s little daylight between McKinley and Mooney. Both have conservative voting records. Both actively supported Trump and his agenda when he was president (McKinley actually has a better voting record for Trump’s agenda than Mooney). And both are strong on traditional Republican issues, such as 2nd Amendment rights, anti-abortion and pro-fossil fuels.
“At the end of the day, you have to look at them both and say they’re both pretty much Trump loyalists,” Widmeyer said. “They both strongly supported Trump’s policy, so very little difference between the two on that.”
“We want to get to a better place in this country with our political system, and we have a long way to go,” Widmeyer continued. “There are a lot of reasons why this has piled up over the years and it’s even more disconcerting in West Virginia right now because the state is going through population loss and we lost a seat in Congress. . And now we see two members of Congress sitting back to back and they’re not from different parties; they are from the same party. We don’t think that’s helpful.
(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])