Skip Tucker: Goldfinger and the art of negative campaigning

Skip Tucker: Goldfinger and the art of negative campaigning

By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News contributor

Riddle me this: What does a special interest group have in common with Auric Goldfinger?

Auric Goldfinger ranks third on my list of Ian Fleming’s villains who plagued James Bond. The real Bond: Sean Connery.  And Goldfinger was the last great Bond movie, when technology was a plot device and not the plot itself.

Goldfinger’s scheme was genius. He wanted inside Ft. Knox to access the $130 billion gold reserve. When Bond told him he was mad, that he could never move that much weight, Goldfinger laughed and said, “I don’t intend to steal it, Mr. Bond. I will detonate a dirty nuclear bomb to contaminate it.” Bond apologizes admiringly.

“Goldfinger, that is genius,” he says. “If you contaminate it, dramatically reducing the world’s supply, your own gold will increase in value.”

“Tenfold,” says Goldfinger (bonus: Auric is Latin for “containing gold.”)

What does that have to do with politics and elections? Most special interest groups with any clout know within a couple of percentage points, by and large, how many votes they can turn out on election day. In particular races, it might be better for them to see a low voter turnout because the fewer the votes from the general public, the greater the value of each vote turned by a special interest.

Negative campaigns discourage potential voters from going to the polls. The dirtier the campaign, the more “contaminated” the electorate and the lower the vote percentage and therefore the special interest vote percentage increases in value dramatically. A truly nasty neg is an effective, doubleduty effective dirty trick among other political sleights-of-hand.

It usually works, but can backfire. Alabama’s unfortunately unforgettable state senate race is instructive. In the Republican primary, the dirty race between Luther Strange and Roy Moore came down to Getting Out The Vote. Astute observers predicted if the turnout was greater than 20 percent, Strange was likely winner. Under 20 percent and Moore would win, which he did. The turnout was about 18 percent.

The backfire was the Moore/Jones general election. Moore’s supporters voted but this time more than 40 percent turned out and Roy was turned out.

There are examples ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

In the 1978 gubernatorial race, Bill Baxley and Albert Brewer battled so harshly that Fob James, who would’ve gotten the Bronze Medal, leapfrogged to governor. The cataclysmic Democratic Party meltdown in 1986 created a stench that must’ve offended the nostrils of God, and gave us Guy Hunt.

One of the worst was the 1994 race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court between business candidate Perry Hooper and trial lawyer darling Sonny Hornsby, the incumbent. Under Hornsby and what was considered a kangaroo court for civil lawsuit punitive damages, Alabama developed a national, nay, international reputation as the original Tort Hell, so named in 1993 by Forbes Magazine.  The liberal New York Times called Alabama “a trial lawyer paradise and a business nightmare.”

I believe honest lawsuits are essential to the fabric of society. There is a reason the phrase “Let the buyer beware” became part of our lexicon. Just as low as slimy business are sleazy trial lawyers with “frivolous” cases off which they make millions, even billions, of dollars. But that is a story for another day.

The 1994 Hooper race brings us back to our old friends, faked absentee ballots. The final election day count in that race showed Hooper with 562,428 over Hornsby with 562,166. Suddenly, though, the Hornsby people produced 2,000 absentee ballots and claimed the win. These “ghost” ballots were unwitnessed and unsigned, but it fell to the Alabama Supreme Court to decide if the votes were legal and, Shazam, they were. The Hornsby court said the votes were in “substantial” compliance.

They said this with straight faces.

An appellate Federal court laughed in those straight faces and, after all the shenanigans and the cost to taxpayers of a million dollars or so, Hornsby moved on.

A final word, at least today, about negative ads. I worked two campaigns with “Little Dick” Morris, whom folks have seen on Fox News. Morris, whose ego is in exact disproportion to his diminutive size, indeed does understand the delineation between political left and right as well as anyone I’ve known. He is also good at developing the sharpened negative ad.

When he showed up at the last one I worked with him, I said, “Dick, you reckon this is going to be a dirty race?”

He smiled and said, “It will be if we do it right.” (By the bye: Morris has published several books. I know for a fact that, for whatever reason, he cannot spell, or couldn’t, and admitted it.)

Sometimes negative campaigning isn’t about tainting just the other candidate, but rather tainting the election itself – and the electorate – by intentionally disgusting voters and discouraging turnout to make the electorate more predictable. These people taint the American process of how we choose those to lead us. It is a pretty sorry business. So, though, is politics. Just remember: It is our business.

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June is a preeminent month for me, hallmarked by the 18th anniversary for me and My Bride. It is also the month my dad went ashore on D-Day (he was First Sgt. Tucker of Eldridge, Ala., rather than a staff sergeant, as I said previously; there’s a vast difference), and it is the anniversary of the death of one of my heroes, Robert Kennedy. Next week, I’ll relate my seeing him when he brought his presidential campaign to Tuscaloosa and performed probably the bravest act I have witnessed in person.

Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War.

Skip Tucker: Wary of Vote Fraud, Then and Now