One Campaign Mail War

Monday, November 04, 2002

By John Biver (jbiver@illinoisleader.com)

Senator Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) was honored over the weekend by a group of Laotian immigrants.
OPINION -- What TV advertising is to the big budget campaigns, direct mail is to the smaller budget campaigns. In the newly drawn 22nd state senate district consisting of Elgin and a few surrounding communities, a drama is being played out in the form of a great campaign mail war.

It?s a clash of a ten-year incumbent Republican Steve Rauschenberger and well-funded challenger Democrat Robert Steffen. It?s a race that pits the best of the old tactics against the best of the new. And though you might expect the challenger to be the one bringing the ?new? tactics, in this race it?s the incumbent.

Most registered voters with a mailbox have filled up their recycling bins for years with the same old political campaign mail pieces. Varying in size, they?re printed on glossy paper, loaded with pictures like an Eddie Bauer catalog, and full of negative personal attacks. In this campaign, those pieces are being sent out on behalf of the challenger. In contrast, Rauschenberger?s mail is content heavy, picture light, and devoid of attacks on his opponent.

A little background is in order. The Democrats have drawn the legislative map and are expected to take control of the state senate with or without winning in the 22nd district. Knocking off Rauschenberger, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, would be icing on their cake. He has long been a thorn in the side of those who would like nothing better than to have free access to the taxpayer?s checkbook without the pesky oversight of people like a former businessman and accounting major.

A little more background: Robert Steffen has raised relatively little money for his own campaign. Most of his mailings are being paid for by outside groups orchestrated by powers out of the Democratic Party in Chicago. And they?re using the tried and true strategy that has always worked best for their political machine: go negative in a big way.

Rauschenberger is being accused of just about everything you can imagine. The level of negativity contained in Steffen?s mail pieces is matched only by its shallowness.

Here are a couple of my favorite examples. One piece hits Rauschenberger for a vote against a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers DUI bill. Mail recipients will obviously wonder how he could vote against a bill supported by MADD? Is he a defender of drunk driving? Actually, one bit of information is left out that might help give context and a better indication of Rauschenberger?s voting record on the issue. He?s voted for 21 of the 22 MADD bills, and only had an objection to the approach taken by one.

In another piece Rauschenberger is hammered for supporting the early release of a criminal who illegally absconded with money from a pension fund. Is the incumbent senator on the side of thieves? The fact is that Rauschenberger wrote a letter in support of the man being allowed to enter a work release program so he could begin working to pay restitution to those from whom he stole.

Another piece hits Rauschenberger for his many legislative trips. Having worked in his office I know most of his travel was due to his work on behalf of the National Conference of State Legislators, where he serves as a co-chair of a task force and has been elected to its board of directors. Traveling to help a national organization educate and lobby and draft model legislation hardly constitutes the typical legislative ?junket.?

Rauschenberger?s mail is another story. If you?ve read a few of my past columns, you?ll know that this writer believes it?s possible to raise the level of the political debate in this country. In this vein, Rauschenberger?s mail is the best I?ve ever seen. The pieces were written and designed by retired advertising professional Shirley Rauschenberger, who also happens to be the candidate?s mother.

If you get the chance, compare Rauschenberger?s mail pieces with the typical pablum put together by the Republican state senate campaign committee. Rauschenberger?s mail pieces have high word counts. The committee?s pieces typically insult the intelligence of the voter.

On election night it?ll be interesting to see who prevails in this mail war. If Rauschenberger wins and wins big, it?ll be very good news indeed for those of us working to usher in a new era in political discourse.


John Biver
John Biver is a political analyst and policy advisor in Illinois.