Bob Bernick’s notebook: How stupid do they think we are?

With all of the negative TV, radio and flyer ads running in the U.S. 3rd District GOP primary race, you have to ask this:

How stupid do these out-of-state sponsors think Utahns are?

One ad — I’m not joking here — says that Tanner Ainge has “never voted for a tax hike.”


Ainge has never held public office.

He’s never run for public office before.

Of course, he has never voted for a tax increase, nor publicly declared his opposition to one.

What are we supposed to wonder, that Ainge got up one morning and said to his wife:

“Wifey, today I’m going down to the TV station and tell a reporter than I’m going to vote against a tax increase.

“Of course, I can’t actually vote for a tax increase, because there’s no way I can vote for one or not.

“But if there were one, then I’d vote against it! That’s what I say.”

Other negative ads make Provo Mayor John Curtis out to be the worst mayor of all time, anywhere.

In fact, Curtis took over a city budget deeply in the red and turned it into black, reducing the city payroll along the way.

Curtis has approval ratings, from some very conservative Utah voters, in the 80th percentile – better than any federal or state public office holders.

But what a bum Curtis appears to be in these negative ads.

The out-of-state money now tops $882,000.

The old political saw is that negative ads are used because they work.

And in some cases, they can make an impact.

But it’s a question of degree.

And how close the race is.

And the candidates themselves.

It is always easier for a negative ad campaign to work if the targeted candidate is already vulnerable.

Maybe they are unknown.

Maybe they already have a problem with credibility, trustworthiness or some such.

If a set of voters already believes something bad about a candidate, then you reinforce that poor perception in a well-crafted, even subtle negative ad.

Or you can just plain appeal to the bad or stupid side of voters.

Like the old joke about a negative statement about a candidate from the South whose sister was an unmarried actress – and the other candidate said his opponent had a family member who was a well-known thespian.

There are, however, real problems with these negative ads – or misleading statements – in the 3rd District.

Utah voters are not stupid.

And while Ainge is unknown, Curtis is not.

The right-wing candidate, Chris Herrod, is throwing some of this mud himself, but the most outrageous negative ads are coming from arch-conservative super PAC supporters of Herrod’s out of Washington, D.C., like the Club For Growth and associated groups.

Herrod doesn’t control these groups – although he could always disavow their tactics and publicly call for them to stop. Which he hasn’t done to my knowledge.

One has to ask what do these groups expect to get from all this spending – now going over $850,000?

Of course, the newly-formed PAC that is funded primarily by Tanner Ainge’s mother and father has a clear goal – help their son get elected.

But the pro-Herrod PACs may well be doing their candidate more harm than good.

One only has to look back to 1990 and the GOP 3rd District race to see the real comparison:

John Harmer and Karl Snow were battling it out for the Republican nomination in the 3rd District.

This race was crazy mean – much worse than today’s 3rd District. It was believed that the GOP nominee would win the seat – just like today.

So these guys went after each other – all kinds of negative ads and accusations. Both sides were “investigating” the other side, claiming to sue each other and on and on.

Harmer was the conservative, Snow the moderate.

Snow won, but the Harmer folks wouldn’t get on his side.

Snow supporters made a big mistake at the end of the general election campaign – running a newspaper ad showing Snow’s large family, wife and kids, (saying he was Mormon and such), compared to a single picture of Democrat Bill Orton, who was then unmarried, but was still a good Mormon (hinting he was maybe gay.)

Orton won the election, serving from 1991 to 1997 in one of the most Republican districts in the nation.

Assuming Curtis wins this Aug. 15 primary (he was ahead in recent polls), will the Herrod right-wingers refuse to back Curtis over his Democratic opponent, as the Harmer folks did 27 years ago?

In any case, because of SB54 and the signature-route to a party’s primary, the days of right-wingers deciding their party’s nominees may be over.

It all depends on who turns out to vote in this year’s special Aug. 15 GOP primary.

And how the defeated Republican candidates act afterward.