Media Scrutiny of Personal Lives and Cost of Campaigns Said to Scare off Candidates

Article excerpt

Intense media scrutiny of political candidates is scaring away potential contenders, according to a new survey of candidates themselves.

A new survey by Campaigns and Elections magazine and the University of Maryland shows that 81 percent of candidates say press coverage scares off would-be officeholders. Fear of the media edged out the high cost of campaigns - cited by 79 percent of the 364 state legislature candidates surveyed - as a factor scaring off potential candidates.

The study comes at a time when Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush is being buffeted by persistent questions about possible past drug use - despite the fact that no one has specifically accused him of using drugs - and by an accusation in a lawsuit by a former state employee that the Texas governor interfered with a state probe of a funeral home connected with a political contributor.

"I think what's interesting is that [fear of the media] is seeping down" to local candidates, who usually receive little press attention, said Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Campaigns and Elections.

Maryland political consultant Carol Arscott, who advises local and state candidates, was surprised by the results.

"I have never encountered any candidates on the local level who say, `Gee, I'm not going to run because of something in my background,' " she said.

Former congressional hopefuls agreed yesterday, saying candidates are usually well aware of the potential media scrutiny.

"They aren't necessarily afraid of the press doing stories on legitimate parts of their lives," said Ron Greer, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for a congressional seat in Wisconsin last year. "What they're afraid of is the constant combative spin" opponents put on a candidate's past.

Mr. Greer's own past was a factor in his narrow primary loss. Mr. Greer has long been an outspoken critic of homosexuality, a stance that in part led the local fire department to fire him. …