Recently, Candidate Rick Kessler launched an attack against incumbent Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez for traveling to El Salvador as part of a delegation invited by the Salvadoran parliament to observe the legislative election. CASA Director Gustavo Torres criticized Rick’s statements in the strongest terms (see Rick’s reply here).
An interesting analysis of the politics of Rick’s choice to make an issue out of Ana’s travel from my email:
I had not seen Rick Kessler‘s attack on Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez. Beyond my disagreement with the point he was trying to make, I don’t get it as a political tactic. She was the first place finisher in the 2010 primary, not the third, so it seems likely that if you were picking someone to target [it wouldn’t be Ana]. So beyond angering at least one group of voters, what does he hope to accomplish?
A serious candidate, as Kessler appears to be, can’t seriously think he’ll beat Del. Gutierrez, so he must hope that by making this kind of attack he can get some Waldstreicher or Carr voters to give him their third vote. The funny thing about that, given the approx. 1100 vote gap between Gutierrez and Carr, and the 500 vote gap between Gutierrez and Waldstreicher, is that if the strategy works he’s more likely to take down one of the other incumbents than Gutierrez.
A plausible analysis of the potential impact.
Others were taken aback by Gustavo’s claim that Rick’s attack was race-baiting. District 18 Resident Molly Hauck sent me a letter that included this paragraph:
[Mr. Torres] called Mr. Kessler‘s opinion “thinly disguised race-baiting.” I find this offensive and incendiary. If Ana Sol Gutierrez were to disagree with Mr. Kessler, would we attribute her opinion to his race, religion, country of origin, age, sex, or other personal characteristic? No. It would simply be described as a difference of opinion. When people play the race card, it creates conflict and increases discomfort between different ethnic groups. It is destructive. I hope that if in the future Mr. Torres disagrees with what a candidate says that he will find a different way of expressing it.
My own view is that Rick’s attack was a political mistake in a couple of different ways. First, his original statement suggested merely that Ana left for El Salvador only to vote but did not also mention that she was part of an official delegation to observe the elections and invited by the Salvadoran National Assembly and with the knowledge and approval of the the House Speaker.
Democracy promotion, particularly in a country where many of her constituents have close ties and fled for reasons related to a past civil war and human rights abuses, is a worthy public goal. While I can see why some might think she should stay in Maryland, this set her travel in a very different light.
Even more important, while I understand the desire of challengers to stand out from the pack, attacks generally don’t pay in these multi-candidate delegate elections. Instead of alienating supporters of another candidate, challengers should want to go around and get their votes too because voters possess multiple votes.
On the other hand, precisely because of the ability to give a very good explanation for Ana’s travel, Gustavo’s reply was overkill and polarizing. While it may galvanize support among some Latinos for Ana, it also left some whites, including some of Ana’s supporters, with a bad taste in their mouth.