Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The letters race

It's been nearly 35 years since I got out of the prediction business following a few years of picking high school football games under the name of Major Hoople. So I'm not about to start prognosticating now about next week's elections. But decades of observing the flow of campaign letters to the editor have taught me this: Rarely is there a correlation between the amount of favorable letters about one candidate over another and the actual number of votes each ultimately receives.

The two contests drawing the most mail this year are the Ulster County Court judge race between incumbent Democrat Deborah Schneer and former Republican District Attorney Don Williams, and the race for Dutchess County Legislator between incumbent Democrat Joel Tyner and GOP challenger Pat Dealy.

After an early "lead" for Williams, the letters in the last week or so have been heavily tilted towards Schneer. Tyner has maintained an edge over Dealy from the start, although it's close.

The problem with most of the letters on both sides is that they smack of an organized effort. Save for several letters from those who have had personal experience with Williams, the writers pretty much rehash the same themes: Williams tough, but fair; Schneer more judicial experience; Tyner a hard worker; Dealy a candidate who will listen to the constituents.

The Freeman typically provide a considerable amount of space to squeeze in as many letters from all sides as possible. As previously noted, we never use them all. But we do feel it's our obligation to publish plenty of letters. I must confess, however, each year I authorize the extra space, then I wonder if it's worth it, so similar are most of the missives.

Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps readers are studying the letters closely and making a final decision based on their contents. We'll never be sure.

My advice to candidates and their supporters (although it's too late for this year): Say something unique. We'll take it as a given that they're honest and dedicated and nice to their parents. To paraphrase Chris Matthews from his Sunday morning TV program, tell us something we don't know.
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