Friday, November 9, 2007

Party Brand

The position of King County prosecutor was voted on Tuesday - it had become open when the previous officeholder, Norm Maleng, died this past March. Both the major-party candidates for the office - Bill Sherman, Democrat, and Dan Satterburg, Republican, work in the King Country prosecutor's office. Sherman is a deputy prosecutor in the office's domestic-violence unit, and Satterburg had been Maleng's chief of staff, becoming interim prosecutor when Maleng died. But Satterburg has been in the prosecutor's office much longer than Sherman, and campaigned heavily on that experience. So Sherman took an interesting campaign tack, and challenged the public to consider each candidate's party affiliation. King County (which includes Seattle), like most urban centers, is highly Democratic, so the winner needs a pretty good number of Democratic voters to vote for him.

The last tally had Satterburg winning comfortably, with just under 54% of the vote. David Postman, the Seattle Times' political correspondent, asked the chairman of the Washington State Democratic party, Dwight Pelz, if there were any second thoughts about making party affiliation into a campaign issue. According to Pelz, "The 46 percent demonstrates that partisanship matters."

I, for my part, found that statement to be insulting towards those people who'd voted for Sherman. I'd certainly be ticked off if someone had chalked up my voting patterns to partisan loyalty, rather than trying to chose the best man for the job. But I guess that this is why I don't readily identify myself with either party - I don't see affiliation with one party or another as being, in and of itself, a significant qualification to hold office. Which, I suppose, puts me outside of the typical demographic that political types like to market themselves towards. The political parties are in the business of branding - and of trying to make their brands stand for something that people will vote for. But people aren't widgets, and they don't mass produce well. I can't tell you much about Senator John Kerry's approach to policy by describing Mayor Richard Daley or Representative Al O'Brien, despite the fact that they're all Democrats. So the Democratic brand doesn't really have much meaning, and I'm not at all certain that it should. I'm the same way about the Republican brand.

But like I said, in this, I think, I'm out of step. I might have trouble translating a certain party affiliation into an indication of how well someone is going to do the job, but for most people, that's the norm. I might feel that Dwight Pelz insulted Democratic voters, but it's doubtful that they feel insulted themselves.

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