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10 things you might not know about dirty politics

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It's that season again, when the dead return to life. We're not talking about Halloween--we mean Election Day, when ghost voters haunt the land. Here are 10 examples of political dirty tricks:

1. When unscrupulous British political operatives show up at nursing homes with premarked absentee voter ballots, it's called "granny farming." It's that season again, when the dead return to life. We're not talking about Halloween--we mean Election Day, when ghost voters haunt the land. Here are 10 examples of political dirty tricks:

2. Once upon a time, Roman Catholics were very, very scary. Running for U.S. president in 1928, Catholic Al Smith, a Democrat, was called a "rum-soaked Romanist." His opponents circulated construction photos of New York's Holland Tunnel, saying they showed the beginnings of a tunnel to the Vatican.

3. In the 1946 Democratic primary race for Georgia governor, Eugene Talmadge appealed to white racists by hiring a look-alike of his opponent to campaign in a limousine with two cigar-puffing blacks in the back seat. It worked, but Talmadge died before Inauguration Day.

4. According to political lore out of Florida, Democratic primary challenger George Smathers defeated Florida Sen. Claude Pepper in 1950 by declaring Pepper was a "shameless extrovert" whose sister "was once a thespian" and who "habitually practiced celibacy" before his marriage. But that speech probably was apocryphal. A Time magazine article at the time cited it as a "yarn," but some believed it despite Smathers' denials.

5. Hairdressers, beware. When Republican Mike Taylor challenged Democratic Sen. Max Baucus in Montana in 2002, a Democratic ad cited financial irregularities in Taylor's hair-care business decades earlier. The ad featured old footage of Taylor with his shirt half-open while he applied lotion to a man's temples as disco music played. The Village People didn't appear in the ad, but the suggestion was obvious. Taylor, a father of two who had been married 22 years, was defeated.

6. Former Bush aide Karl Rove admitted a "youthful prank" in Chicago in 1970. As a 19-year-old, he stole campaign stationery for Alan Dixon, a Democratic candidate for Illinois treasurer, and printed 1,000 fliers promising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time" at a Dixon rally. The leaflet was distributed to street people, creating unexpected diversity at the event.

7. Dirty tricksters love telephone "push polls," which pretend to be surveys but ask leading questions, such as the one in the South Carolina 2000 primary: "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered a black child out of wedlock?" (The child was his adopted Bangladeshi daughter.) Another phone prank is the " Super Bowl scheme," in which a caller pretends to be from an opponent's campaign and annoys voters by interrupting them during the football game.

8. Many historians believe Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine stuffed the ballot box to win Illinois for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 race for the White House. But it's often wrongly assumed that Illinois was crucial. In fact, JFK would have captured the presidency without Illinois. After the election, a joke went around Washington: Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Daley were in a lifeboat with enough food for one. Two of them would have to jump overboard. But whom? Daley suggested the three of them vote on it and he won, 8-2.

9. It's known as "oppo," or opposition research, in which investigators hunt for damaging information. William Casey was a master. Working for Richard Nixon in 1960, he investigated John F. Kennedy's medical condition but was never directly tied to a break-in at the office of Kennedy's doctor. Two decades later, Jimmy Carter's debate briefing book went missing, and a congressional probe later cited Casey as the chief suspect, despite his denials. When Ronald Reagan defeated Carter, Reagan decided Casey was well-qualified for a key job: CIA director.

10. Whispering campaigns often label candidates as drunkards. But in Wisconsin in 1956, the opposite was true. Republican gubernatorial candidate Vernon Thompson was from Richland Center, which banned alcohol sales. His opponents went to taverns in resort areas and struck up conversations about how Thompson was from a dry town and wanted to turn the whole state that way. Thompson won, barely.

Sources: "How to Get Elected," by Jack Mitchell; "Dirty Politics," by Bruce L. Felknor; "American Pharaoh," by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor; "Going Dirty," by David Mark; Newsweek; Time; doubletongued.org; Washington Monthly; and Tribune news services.

Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune. mjacob@tribune.com

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