Candidates Compete to Show They're Not Special

Let’s hear from the candidates why they are better--not why they are just like the rest of us.

By + More

The race to the bottom has become so heated in congressional campaigns that a U.S. Senate candidate is touting her suitability for elected office by saying “I didn’t go to Yale.”

Unless one is at a Harvard alumni reception, it’s hard to see why this is something GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell wants to advertise in a TV ad, especially considering that she’s already come under fire for suggesting she went to the University of Oxford, or that she graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University, when in fact she only received her degree in September. (O’Donnell got the diploma after paying overdue tuition and finishing an additional course, the Delaware News Journal detailed.)

But while O’Donnell is perhaps most direct in her approach, other candidates, too, seem to believe that being smarter, more educated, or even better dressed than their would-be constituents is a negative. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat struggling to best GOP Senate nominee Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, went to Dartmouth, has a law degree from Boston College, served as a prosecutor, and so impressed his fellow new colleagues when he was elected to the House in 2006 that the Democrats elected him president of his freshman class. But his TV ads seek to portray him as a regular guy, driving around the state with his dog in the back seat, or strumming a guitar as he sings with his wife, Peggo.

[See where Hodes gets his campaign money.]

Ayotte herself was a state attorney general, appointed to the position by both a Republican and a Democratic governor--a fact that she should constantly underscore as a counter to the poisonous partisanship in Congress. But Ayotte, too, downplays any suggestion that she might actually be more qualified than her neighbors for the job, repeatedly telling voters she doesn’t think she knows better than they do. Really? Then why should anyone vote for her? One would hope our elected officials know better than we do, study the issues more closely, and weigh the competing priorities in legislation. Isn’t that the point of a campaign and an election?

[Read Robert Schlesinger: Lay Off the Attacks on Elites]

Then there’s Scott McAdams, a Democrat running for Senate in Alaska. I have little idea, from watching his TV ads, what special expertise or education or experience he would bring to the job. McAdams’s most recent TV spot shows him clumsily trying to put on a series of goofy ties. “My wife Romee told me I better start wearing a tie so I can look … senatorial,” McAdams says, treating the characterization like it was something to be ashamed of.

An Ivy League education doesn’t alone qualify anyone to serve in Congress, and voters understandably want lawmakers who understand the needs of their constituents. But dumping the tie or driving a truck doesn’t alone qualify anyone to be in elected office, either. This isn’t modern-day Little League, when everyone gets a trophy to prove that no one is a loser. Elections are competitions. Let’s hear from the candidates why they are better--not why they are just like the rest of us.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • See a slide show of 11 hot races in November.