When Parkside Group’s Jennifer Wilson reached out Monday to let me know about her company’s victories in the Reed Awards for political campaigning, I asked, “Wait, that’s a thing?”
And what a thing it is. Awarded by trade publisher Campaigns and Elections, the prizes celebrate the best in political combat, which is quite often the worst in societal discourse. Many of the award names alone are enough to make you want to flee politics, eyes closed and ears covered (the worst way to flee).
Here’s a sampling of the most depressing categories:
- Best villain in a mail piece for a Republican campaign
- Best mail that never saw the light of day
- Best bare-knuckled street fight TV ad
- Best use of opposition research
- Best automated phone call
- Toughest radio ad
- Most sophisticated targeting with direct mail
- Best social pressure mail piece
Those categories were enough to make me wonder whether this democracy thing is really working out. Thankfully, there are more heartening categories:
- Best use of humor in a TV ad
- Best TV ad on a shoestring budget
- Best campaign comeback
- Best public affairs campaign
Parkside won for best mail piece for a congressional campaign for Rep. Thomas Suozzi, and most original TV ad for State Sen. John Brooks, and both wins by the two Democrats are instructive. Suozzi had an easy race in 2018, besting a virtually unknown Republican with little money named Dan DeBono by 18 points.
Suozzi didn’t have to fight ugly. So the winner for his campaign was a cheery multi-page spread that never mentioned DeBono. It highlighted the Suozzi family’s immigrant journey and his first-term fights for the environment, veterans and sensible health care reform.
Brooks, though, was in a heated race against Republican Jeff Pravato that could have swung the State Senate. In real life, Brooks is rumpled, white-haired and gentle. But the ad, which accused Pravato of triple-dipping for pay as an Oyster Bay Town deputy commissioner, Massapequa Park mayor and real estate salesman, was brutal. It referred to Pravato as an “assistant crony,” “henchman” and “chief of double-dipping.”
That harsh tone, combined with significant creativity, competence and production values, was noticeable in many of the award recipients.
In the winner for best use of humor in a Democratic TV ad, Pennsylvania congressional candidate Denny Wolff rode in a “pro twin slinger,” showing how it spread three tons of manure a minute, “nothing compared to the lies Dan Meuser is spreading about me!”
My favorite piece, best TV ad for a bootstrapped campaign, had vignettes of a Democratic Arizona state senator and gubernatorial candidate ferreting out tax loopholes and health care policy improvements while his staffers geeked out with enthusiastic support, and an announcer booming, “Steve Farley for governor: Boring has never been so exciting!”
Farley, though, got shellacked in the primary.
I often hear that voter turnout would be higher if the campaigns were more substantive and policy-oriented and less negative and glitzy, but I’d guess the opposite is true. Our political campaigns are a reflection of our society, and the Reed Awards are aptly chosen.
That’s part of the problem.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.