If you want to hear some of the toughest language in politics, read a candidate's direct mail fund-raising letters.
You'd think you were in Chicago or Boston, where low blows are a way of political life.The fund-raising letter has become a fine art, both in the writing of the epistle and in targeting who it is sent to.
Gov. Norm Bangerter and Sen. Orrin Hatch are both using a well-known Republican direct mail fund-raiser, former Utahn Karl Rove, who now works out of Texas.
Some of the liveliest reading on Utah politics can come out of Rove's letters. Take, for example, a letter sent out for Bangerter recently. "It was your typical fund-raising letter, very negative," said Rob Jolley, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson.
"It was meticulously accurate," responds Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager.
A good fund-raising letter needs two things, both managers agree - a grabber to make the reader sit up and think and a reason to give. "I call it the big scare and the hook," said Jolley.
In Bangerter's letter, the "big scare" is a list of dubious accomplishments Wilson achieved as Salt Lake City mayor, with a warning by Bangerter that Wilson would do the same thing as governor. "The hook" is Bangerter's goal of raising $250,000 for TV ads he says are needed to keep Wilson from taking the governorship away from "a conservative Republican."
In his letter, Bangerter says that during Wilson's mayoral terms property taxes went up 152 percent, sales taxes went up 153 percent, the utility franchise taxes went up 371 percent, all while Wilson's salary went up 108 percent and city spending increased by 90 percent.
"All that is completely accurate," said Buhler.
"True," counters Jolley. "But the letter doesn't say that those are tax revenues, not the tax rates." While some of those tax rates were increased "slightly," Jolley said, by far the great majority in the tax revenue increases came over a 10-year period through growth and inflation. Buhler agrees his figures are tax revenues, not rates.
Meanwhile, the letter goes on to say that under Bangerter's leadership, 50,000 new jobs were created in Utah, unemployment is the lowest in a decade, $100,000 million in federal contracts were awarded Utah companies, and on and on.
"He (Bangerter) takes credit for things he didn't do," said Jolley.
Bangerter's letter continues: "Unlike Wilson, I don't have to hide my record or run from my national party. I'm proud of what I've accomplished and will take my record to the voters in this election. And I wouldn't quit when the going gets tough, like he did as mayor," Bangerter is quoted in the letter.
He goes on, "To win I must have your support to get my record out. Consider the differences. Think about how much Wilson's `jump start junk bonds' and other spending promises will cost you and your family. (Wilson wants a $150 million bond to help "jump start" Utah's economy.) Decide whether you want a conservative businessman (Bangerter) or a liberal, professional politician (Wilson) as governor."
Buhler said the letter is the governor's first attempt at direct mail fund raising this year.The letter was sent in late August to between 15,000 and 20,000 Utah households. "It went mostly to people who have given to Republican campaigns before." Jolley said Wilson's campaign won't try to counter the letter. "They may mail to some Republicans who will vote for Ted. "The letter wasn't negative. It talked about Wilson's record," said Buhler.
Fund-raising letters have to be tough, have to pound the opponent and then ask _ some may say, plead _ for money.
"So far, the response has been good," said Buhler. Bangerter asked for contributions of between $250 and $20. "We got $1,500 back in one day (in contributions)," Buhler said.