By ANTHONY MAN
Martin v Simon: campaign tactics v issues
This past summer was filled with newsworthy events. President Bush backed away from his no-new-taxes pledge. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan retired. The piece de resistance: Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, followed immediately by a jump in the price of gasoline at the pump.
The timing was fortuitous for U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. Illinois' bow-tied junior senator from Makanda is making his first reelection bid, traditionally a dicey election, and particularly so for Simon.
Two summers before, he was a defeated presidential candidate. Simon held that distinction less than four years after he upset Republican Sen. Charles H. Percy by the slimmest of pluralities, just 1.9 percent of the 4.7 million votes cast. One big feature of Simon's challenge was that Percy, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and at one time a would-be president, had lost touch with Illinois.
If turnabout is fair play, it seemed as if 1990 would be the fairest contest of all. From the beginning of her Senate candidacy, a central epithet hurled at Simon by U.S. Rep. Lynn Martin (R-16, Loves Park, Ill.) has been that he is more interested in liberal Democratic presidential politics than in the people of Illinois. Like his predecessor, Simon is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, although the past year's explosion of international events has tended to neutralize any disadvantage to Simon. Indeed, he seizes every opportunity to make it work to his advantage. Just hours after President Bush sent Marines to evacuate Americans from Liberia, which was in the midst of a civil war, Simon was on Sunday morning network television in his role as chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee.
Simon has also been a willing dispenser of hawkish quotes generally in support of the president's deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf. Simon also bashed the big oil companies for alleged price gouging, usually being careful to add that Martin's campaign finance chairman is chairman of Amoco Oil Co. Reaping the benefits of incumbency, Simon one day received a hurriedly scheduled "briefing" from the Illinois adjutant general and then reported to the public on the status of Illinois National Guard troops. On other days he made statesmanlike
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appearances during Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court. He even benefits from Bush's switch on taxes, a turnabout that makes it harder for Martin to depict Simon as a liberal tax-and-spend bad guy.
If the race seems to have been going on for a long time, there is good reason: It has. Once it became apparent that Simon would not be the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, he went to work to repair home-state damage caused by his bid. He returned to the town meeting circuit, and attempting to inoculate himself against charges he ignored Illinois, he features the meetings in campaign advertisements: "400 town meetings in every part of Illinois ... a special way to be a senator. A special bond with people."
Martin frequently notes his Senate absences during the presidential campaign, and she used his willingness to debate before the Iowa caucuses in an attempt to goad him into debates with her. (One Martin one-liner: "We'll debate him in Dubuque if he's more comfortable.") The candidates eventually agreed to two tightly structured debates offering little opportunity for dialogue. They are set for this month.
Nationally, Republicans considered Simon one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, an assessment that has manifested itself in financial support for Martin. (She expects to raise $7 million, compared to Simon's $8 million goal, and she brags that she has raised more than any other Republican challenging a Democratic incumbent.) In June 1989, several months after losing a House leadership election and 16 months before the general election, Martin decided to give up a safe seat in the 16th Congressional District and announced her intention to take on Simon.
Neither candidate had a perfect 1989. There were bloopers on both sides, episodes often dismissed as public relations gaffes, although the best-known are illuminating. During a discussion with her hometown newspaper's editorial board, Martin used the term "rednecks" to describe southern Illinoisans who would not vote for a woman. That she threw out such a term is no surprise to people who have seen her in action; if nothing else, Martin is quick-witted and down to earth. Some might say too quick. It is not hard to believe Martin actually said it.
The most unexpected single feature of the race is Martin's attempt to tarnish a central part of the Simon image. Martin has tried to link Simon, considered the Illinois is largely Simon country, and offending the relatively small number of people who might not have been inclined to vote for the incumbent was a relatively small price to pay for the statewide publicity. Two southern Illinois Republicans, state Sens. Ralph Dunn (R-58, Du Quoin) and Frank Watson (R-55, Greenville) even capitalized on the remark by printing and distributing "Rednecks for Martin" bumper stickers.
Simon, too, managed to offend a large group, students and alumni at the University of Illinois. Simon's signature on a petition put him on record as opposing Chief Illiniwek, the university's Indian-costumed dancing mascot. Some Native American groups argue that the mascot is a bigoted stereotype, and Simon notes that ceremonies poking fun at black or Jewish religious traditions would never be tolerated. He still says his position is the morally correct one while conceding it was not the best public relations.
The most unexpected single feature of the race is Martin's attempt to tarnish a central part of the Simon image. Martin has tried to link Simon, considered the Mr. Clean of Illinois politics, to the savings and loan scandal. At the least, she suggests Simon is just another politician, something less than his image suggests.
The story was still unfolding as the campaign entered its final weeks. In summary, Simon came to the aid of developer Stephen Ballis, who had defaulted on a $5 million loan to an S&L that had been sold to a California financial institution. Ballis told
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Simon he wanted to avoid a court battle but could not find anyone in California with whom he could broach the subject. Simon called the head of the California firm and urged the two sides to get together. Simon insists his intervention cost the taxpayers nothing and said he did no more for Ballis than he would routinely do for any constituent. He said his career has been marked by bringing together parties to a dispute, whether it be over individual problems, labor-management conflicts or racial divisions in Cairo, Ill. End of story, Simon said.
Beginning of story for Martin. First of all, Ballis is more than just a constituent. He is a Chicago school board appointee, real estate developer, husband of a $1,300 contributor to Simon's campaign and solicitor of other contributions for Simon. Martin called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and said any senator who gets involved in any way in an S&L matter has suspect judgment, given the tenor of the national scandal. Martin renewed her questions after leaked federal documents suggested Simon made five or six calls to the California banker. A Simon aide said that was simply a case of telephone tag between the two parties trying to catch one another.
The Martin campaign then did what everyone expected by releasing the first attack ad of the season. The piece directly criticized Simon's judgment and, through a skillful combination of a deep-voiced announcer and ominous sounding music, suggested something even worse. As the announcer's voice is heard ("S&L scandal has become America's worst financial disaster. Billions lost, senators investigated"), type scrolls by apicture of Simon's face with key words ("bad debt," "his big contributors," "better judgement [sic]'") underlined in red.
During the 1972 gubernatorial primary, which he lost to Dan Walker, Simon learned the perils of not responding to attacks. From the moment Martin hired media consultant Roger Ailes, notorious for negative advertising, Simon began criticizing the Martin-Ailes team. On the campaign trail, Simon set the stage for his own attacks with one of his frequent lines, "I do not intend to be a punching bag." He also hired Doak, Shrum & Associates, a firm with plenty of hardball experience, to handle his own advertising. Less than 24 hours after Martin's S&L ad went on the air, Simon returned fire. His own ad depicted Martin as lax on S&L regulation and painted himself as a champion of wise regulatory policy. (Each side, it should be noted, disputed the content of the other's ad.) Volleys of negative ads are the second similarity between the 1990 Martin-Simon contest and the 1984 Percy-Simon race. Each side plans to spend most of its money on television, so plenty of nastiness can be expected in the closing weeks. So far, each side regards the other's TV spots as negative attacks but insists its own are issue-oriented or comparative. Unlike 1984, this year's Senate race is not the focus of Illinois politics. Politicos are focusing most of their attention on the gubernatorial contest, and news coverage pales in comparison to the newspaper space and broadcast airtime afforded the jubernatorial race. By contrast, 1984 was the year President Reagan was crushing his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, and Illinois politicians had the time to devote to the Senate race, which was the only statewide contest. News organitions were not spread thin by the presence of other races.
The effects of less media attention are unknown. The advantage could be Simon's, given his higher level of name recognition and ability to attract more attention to the news he generates as a senator. Alternatively, Martin could benefit if her advertising messages control the agenda. Less news coverage presumably means advertising becomes a more important source of information for voters.
Voters have a distinct choice. Martin and Simon are not a pair of blow-dried, one-dimensional, stereotypical modern politicians. Both can be engaging away from the television cameras. Simon can joke with his wife, Jeanne, about a shopping trip to a new home-furnishings store (after the election, they decide), and Martin likes to chat about her decision to plant a variety of shrub that supposedly attracts butterflies (1990 was too early to tell if it will work).
Beyond what one thinks of Simon and Martin as people, there are significant substantive differences between them. Put simply, Simon is quite liberal, with a few twists thrown in, and Martin is generally a mainstream Republican.
The National Journal annual voting analysis is illustrative. For its 1989 analysis, the publication used 103 House and Senate
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votes to determine senators' and representatives' ideological leanings on social, economic and foreign policy issues. A composite score can also be developed.
The 1989 National Journal analysis, published early this year, showed Simon was more liberal than 86 percent of the Senate on economic issues and more conservative than only 8 percent; more liberal than 87 percent on social issues and more conservative than 6 percent; and more liberal than 92 percent of the Senate on foreign policy and more conservative than 3 percent. His composite score was 91.3, making Simon one of the most liberal senators. That was no aberration; Simon's 1988 liberal composite was 93.
Martin is closer to the middle. She was more liberal than 30 percent of the House on economic issues and more conservative than 68 percent of the House; more liberal than 43 percent of the House on social issues and more conservative than 55 percent; and more liberal than 27 percent of the House on foreign affairs and more conservative than 72 percent. She was more liberal than most Illinois Republicans and was the most liberal on economic issues. Martin's composite liberal score was 34.2, making her conservative composite 65.8. Martin's votes moderated in the year she began the Senate campaign. In 1988, her liberal composite was 26.7 and conservative score was 73.3.
At times, neither candidate provides exactly what would be expected from typical members of their parties. Simon, for example, has long supported a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. And Martin broke with her long-time friend and political ally, President Bush, to support legislation requiring employers to provide unpaid leave to employees with family emergencies. Simon comes from southern Illinois, where lots of high-sulfur coal is mined. High-sulfur coal is the kind that produces pollution blamed for acid rain. He voted against the Clean Air Bill this year in the Senate; Martin immediately announced her intention to vote for it in the House. The two candidates share some views, most notably on abortion. Both favor a pregnant woman's right to choose an abortion.
As the campaign closes, Martin's biggest problem is the one she started with. She has strong support in her home territory, which includes Rockford, the base of her congressional district. But so far, she has been unable to make her attacks stick to Simon, or at least stick enough to soften him up and put her within striking distance of an upset. A series of news media public opinion surveys just before and soon after Labor Day showed essentially the same thing: Simon had slightly over 50 percent of the vote, the same level he has held for months. Two of the surveys were taken after the S&L matter had received wide publicity, and one was conducted after both sides were broadcasting both their S&L attack ads and their own positive spots. A bright note for Martin: There are still sizable percentages of voters who say they are undecided, and people will undoubtedly pay more attention once Congress adjourns for the final campaign push, and election day approaches.
Five political scientists said in mid-September they were surprised that things stood the way they did. The consensus of those analysts, from all parts of the state and with leanings toward both parties, was a belief that Martin could not close the gap. They noted that while Martin and Simon stayed about the same over the summer, Democrat Neil F. Hartigan closed in on Republican Jim Edgar in the gubernatorial race.
Of course, in October 1984 Percy led Simon in the polls, and Jack R. Van Der Slik, professor of political studies at Sangamon State University, says the gap between Simon and Martin will undoubtedly narrow. "It's going to get closer." Adds Jackson of SIUC: "She is, after all, a mainstream Republican in a state that has a tradition of supporting mainstream Republicans."
There are plenty of unknowns that could change the situation in the closing weeks of this campaign. Potentially significant factors include:
• Additional disclosures along the lines of the S&L matter that Martin can use to tarnish Simon. Short of something explosive, the political analysts say Simon's reservoir of credibility and reputation for honesty are too deep to be damaged. Yet voters could display vengeance against anyone linked in any way with anything to do with S&Ls.
• Fundraising in the final stretch of the campaign. The Labor Day polls that showed Martin not making significant gains could dampen financial enthusiasm on both sides, affecting both camps' ability to buy television commercial time.
• Whether the blacks who have broken from the Democrats can get the Harold Washington Party on the ballot in Cook County. Simon normally does well in the black community and has received a strong endorsement from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was mad at Simon during the 1988 presidential campaign. Getting Washington Party straight ticket voters in Cook County to punch Simon's name on the November 6 ballot would be a formidable task.
With the possibility of war causing dramatic shifts in the popularity of all politicians, notably the Republican president and the incumbent Democratic senator, the outcome of Illinois' U.S. Senate contest may not rest on the substantive, philosophical differences between Martin and Simon. Barring a catastrophe, the candidate more likely to win is the one who plots the best course through the perils of October and early November.
Anthony Man is Statehouse bureau chief for the four Lee Enterprises newspapers in Illinois. He wrote about the 1984 Paul Simon-Charles Percy Senate race as political reporter at the Decatur Herald & Review.
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