Should the GOP just leave Potts alone?

The Top Story by Chris Graham

He’s Br’er Rabbit, and the newspaper headlines are his Briar Patch.

 

Don’t keep threatening to kick me out of the party.

, Russ Potts says to Republicans, daily.A reporter might pick up on it, and that would spell my doom.

Actually, what has happened is that Potts, running for governor as a self-styled independent Republican, has had his profile raised immeasurably by the constant harping of GOP leaders upset that he is challenging party stalwart Jerry Kilgore from the outside.

“There’s no question about it,” Potts told The Augusta Free Press. “Their attack-focused campaign has given me name recognition in every corner of the state, from Hampton Roads to Southside to Southwest. My name has appeared in every newspaper in the state of Virginia, on every radio station, TV station. People who had never heard my name now know who I am and what I stand for.”

Knowing that, can Republicans discipline themselves enough that they stop doing what Potts seems to want them to do – namely, mention his name with the same vitriol that Democrats had reserved for Ralph Nader in 2000?

“It’s hard to say,” said Fairfax attorney Gil Davis, who dropped out of the race for the GOP lieutenant-governor nomination last week.

“But a party can’t shy away from having some discipline. If a party just wimps out on discipling one of its members who is going to challenge the nominee of the party for the governor of Virginia, what’s the use of having a party?” Davis told the AFP.

Weyers Cave Del. Steve Landes, the chair of the Republican caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates, for his part, wonders if anybody outside the politics-world cognoscenti is even paying attention at this early stage in the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial campaign.

“Most people don’t even realize that he’s running. The average person on the street doesn’t know who Russ Potts is,” Landes told the AFP.

They might not yet know who Potts is. But as his name appears more and more often on the evening news and in the morning papers, that could change in a hurry.

“In terms of news coverage, all you have to do is look at headlines in papers across the state to see that his name is in the political headlines at least every third or fourth day. This is a considerable advantage to him at this stage in the race, because really, most people, the vast majority of people, aren’t paying close attention right now, but the more his name appears alongside those of Kaine and Kilgore in the headlines, which is all most people are looking at right now in terms of this race, the more credible he is going to be made out to be,” Christopher Newport University political-science professor and political analyst Quentin Kidd told the AFP.

The flip side to the attention being paid to Potts in the news media, Kidd said, is that research has shown that if a concerted effort is made to present a candidate or issue in a negative light, then voters will tend over time to view that candidate or issue in that light.

“That having been said, I’m less inclined right now to believe that this is going to drag Russ down,” Kidd said. “I believe in the end that when you balance out the positive impact of the name recognition that he receives from the mountain of news coverage with the negative tone of the attacks, there will be a net benefit for him in the end.”

Bridgewater College political-science professor and analyst David McQuilkin sees things from a vastly different perspective.

“The easy answer is yes, it will help him. But frankly, he’s being vilified in such a way that I’m not sure the name recognition that he’s gaining will do him a bit of good,” McQuilkin told the AFP.

“I suspect that the longer that he stays in the race, the more vituperative the abuse being heaped upon him will become,” McQuilkin said.

“For the rank-and-file Republicans out there, this is going to be a clear sign to stay away from him. It might help him among moderate Republican voters who decide to vote for him as a protest against the direction that the Republicans are taking the party in. But I don’t see that being significant enough to give him a fighting chance,” McQuilkin said.

So it may help Potts, it may not. And people may be paying attention to the ’05 state race now, they may not be.

Landes is inclined to believe the latter of both of the above more than the former.

“To be honest, the only people making a big deal about this are your colleagues in the news media. Russ is an interesting character. He makes for good copy. He’s always been a controversial figure, and now he’s taking advantage of that,” Landes said.

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