In the Game of Politics, Some Are Playing Nice Tight Race for Open Oregon Seat in US House Is Sticking to the Issues, Staying Smear Free

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

In the Game of Politics, Some Are Playing Nice Tight Race for Open Oregon Seat in US House Is Sticking to the Issues, Staying Smear Free


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


"Hi Molly!" David Wu says as he settles into his seat for the taping of a lively local television show called "Face Off."

"Hi David, how are you?" replies Molly Bordonaro, returning the smile and handshake as technicians fiddle with the gear.

The geniality seems genuine, especially since the cameras are yet to roll on what will be an important debate between these candidates for a highly contested seat in the United States House of Representatives. No need for fake politeness here. In a world of attack ads and personal political smears, this episode in Portland, Ore., the other night raises important questions: Can a race for Congress be run on the issues, without character defamation, and - gasp! - completely lacking in references to the highly partisan soap opera back in Washington? Is it possible to run a campaign that is both clean and tough? Like some other candidates elsewhere, Mr. Wu and Ms. Bordonaro pledged to follow "standards of conduct" outlined by the League of Women Voters. Among these: conducting their campaigns "openly and fairly," not engaging in or condoning "personal attacks unrelated to campaign issues," and not using campaign materials or broadcast ads "which misrepresent, distort, or otherwise falsify the facts." For the most part, say election watchers, the candidates have held to their vows. Says Wu: "Sometimes I just feel like we're running a marathon together." Still, this is not some kind of nonabrasive "Pleasantville" as depicted in the new hit movie. Bordonaro charges that her Democratic opponent has refused to endorse a balanced-budget amendment and wants to spend "billions in new bureaucracy." Wu says the Republican candidate favors school vouchers, would restrict abortion rights, and might cut Social Security benefits. Each has accused the other of "negative campaigning," but so far at least the thresholds described in their campaign-conduct pledge appear not to have been crossed. "We don't have anything against negative ads as long as it stays truthful and accurate," says Tim Gleason, dean of the school of journalism and communications at the University of Oregon and coordinator for the Oregon Alliance for Better Campaigns, a political watchdog group. In this case, there seems no doubt that Bordonaro has worked to appear more moderate to voters who just two years ago reelected one of the most liberal members of Congress (Democrat Elizabeth Furse). But this has left her open to questions about past statements on issues such as school vouchers and abortion. "Certainly, pointing to someone's past positions is fair game," says Margaret Noel of the Oregon League of Women Voters. This congressional race is one of the closest in the US, and winning the open House seat is important to both parties. …

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