Meanwhile, the ads have been flying, with Holden criticizing Cartwright’s contribution to judges who years later were convicted of taking bribes to send juveniles to a private detention facility in which they had a financial interest. Cartwright responded with his own ad. Holden has also taken shots at Cartwright for his relative wealth and his courtroom record, while Cartwright in turn has gone after Holden’s record in Congress. A good look at the final rounds is on the PoliticsPA site here.
After throwing plenty of punches—some of them below the belt—Holden has just announced he will call off his negative ads, and called on Cartwright to do the same. But plenty of the paid messaging isn’t coming from the campaigns. The League of Conservation Voters has run sets of ads against Holden, as has the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability. And the liberal Blue America PAC has even taken out—yes, they’re still in style—billboards. The collective investment of these outside players—in the range of $500,000, according to statements by the groups and reports—approaches that of the campaigns themselves.
Some useful context on this outside spending has come from other sources—for example, this public radio report by WITF’s Mary Wilson, this Times-Tribune article by Borys Krawczeniuk, and this op-ed by The Morning Call’s Paul Carpenter, which offers a glimpse at who’s behind the CPA. There have also been worthwhile looks at the candidates’ platforms, like this write-up of a Cartwright interview by Josh Moyer of The Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre.
On TV, though, there’s been little besides the ad war. In fact, perhaps the most substantive (if not the most journalistic) on-air piece was also the most unusual: an April 13 show on WFMZ called Business Matters. This half-hour broadcast featured Holden before an audience of Chamber of Commerce types. “The region’s only local business show on commercial television” features Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce President Tony Iannelli, according to the station’s website. Broadcast on 46 cable companies, the site says it reaches 2.2 million households.
While the program probed more deeply into the issues than any broadcast news segment, the issues under discussion were clearly driven by the show’s focus on business interests. And there was little campaign-challenging dialogue. The most pointed the show got was a question about Holden’s vote to support the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would have made it easier for workers to join unions.
And on Holden’s initial co-sponsorship of and later opposition to the Stop Internet Piracy Act, the congressman threw his staff under the bus. “I gave my legislative director heck on that,” he said.
It’s unclear whether Cartwright will have his half-hour in the Business Matters sun. The next program is scheduled for April 23 at 8 p.m., the night before the primary, according to the website; an email with questions to the show was not returned. And Holden has has declined to debate Cartwright (he’s claimed he’s too busy), so there won’t be any made-for-TV Kennedy-Nixon cuts there.
With some voters likely making their minds up late—and a last blast of ads sure to come—there’s still time for local news programs to improve on their performance to date. Let’s hope they take it.
We’ll find out on Tuesday what effect the campaign, and the coverage, has had. For those who are interested, the Election Night results—no doubt from hotel ballrooms—will be on television.