North and Huffington
TUESDAY'S election may have been a vote against an image of liberal big government, baby-boom leaders, and incumbents. But the voters also rejected the two Senate candidates who most reflected the negative sensibility of the political season - Col. Oliver North of Virginia, and Michael Huffington of California.
The two had much in common. Both ran as Republicans. Neither had had much previous political experience, given the office and responsibility they sought. Both had a nativist tinge that appealed to conservative populist sentiments.
Yet what most defined the two men, sadly, were their negative campaigns - financed by enormous coffers.
Huffington spent $28 million of his own money in a months-long assault on incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who squeaked out a two-percentage-point victory with $15 million. Colonel North raised $20 million and spent $18 million in losing by 3 points to Sen. Charles Robb, who raised $3 million.
Both races were ugly but sophisticated fights to paint their opponents as less virtuous. Both North and Huffington went on the offensive with a blitzkrieg of negative ads against their opponents. Perhaps this was done to cover weakness.
North, for example, had not only directly lied to Congress, but, as Wall Street Journal columnist Albert Hunt documented, was unable to stop lying about himself, his record, and his opponents - even on the campaign trail.
Huffington, on the other hand, had poured so much money into creating a negative image of Senator Feinstein that only late in the campaign (after the story of his illegal hiring of a nanny broke) did voters begin to say they weren't quite sure who Mr. Huffington was, or what he stood for.
The worry in the California race is that it has left the suggestion that with enough media savvy, an unknown could purchase a seat in the Senate rather than submit to real voter scrutiny or party discipline.
Americans in Virginia and California said no to big dollars, media blitzes, and negativity - this time.
But at what cost to civic spirit?