There's really nothing more passive aggressive in politics than the old campaign-to-campaign email exchange — cc'ing the media, of course.
That tactic emerged in the Democratic race for attorney general Thursday as incumbent Bill Sorrell and challenger T.J. Donovan traded barbed requests through the press.
It started in the morning with an email from Donovan campaign manager Ryan Emerson to his counterpart on the Sorrell campaign, Mike Pieciak, calling for more debates before the Aug. 28 primary.The candidates have already taken part in two debates and are scheduled for seven more.
"What better way to inform the public than engaging in more debate?" Emerson wrote. "I know that both campaigns are very busy, but I'm sure we can work together to adjust our schedules accordingly. Will Bill Sorrell join T.J. Donovan by committing to three more debates?"
Rather than directly responding to the Donovan email, Sorrell's campaign issued its own requests by email later in the day. In a letter to Donovan, Sorrell called on his opponent to publicly release a script of the questions his campaign asked in a recent poll of 400 Vermonters. Two Sorrell supporters who participated in the poll characterized it to Seven Days as a "push poll" intended to influence voters, not gauge public opinion — though Donovan's campaign maintains it was a rigorous, scientific survey.
Citing Vermont's tradition of civility in politics, Sorrell also called on Donovan to sign a "positive campaign pledge," which he helpfully included as an attachment to the email. The four-part pledge would bar the candidates from engaging in or condoning "negative or defamatory attacks" on each other's character and issuing campaign materials that mislead or distort the other's record.
"Join me in signing the attached pledge to run a positive issue oriented campaign and to refrain from negative campaigning," Sorrell wrote. "Our party is made stronger by positive issue oriented debate, but can be torn apart by employing negative campaign tactics."
So, will each of the campaigns accede to their opponent's request?
Yes, yes and yes! (Well, kind of.)
While neither campaign responded to the other Thursday afternoon, they each responded to our phone calls. According to Pieciak, the Sorrell campaign is willing to consider more debates — though he noted that the candidates already have plenty of 'em scheduled.
"We're open to debate and if we can schedule some more, sure," he said. "We're not hiding, certainly, from debating, as is evident from the schedule. But, as you know, there are a lot of competing interests in the final 26 days of the campaign."
As for his opponent, Emerson said Donovan would, in fact, sign Sorrell's "positive campaign pledge."
"We've run a positive, issue-oriented campaign up until this point," he said. "We plan on doing it moving forward."
To put the polling question to rest, Emerson said the campaign would allow members of the media to view the questions contained in the poll Friday afternoon, so long as they agree to refrain from reporting specifics. Emerson said the polling questions would be available at the campaign's Burlington headquarters from 1 to 1:30 p.m.
"We have nothing to hide," Emerson said. "The reason for this is to make it clear this is a scientific poll, not a push poll."
He added that Donovan would not make the poll available to the general public because it includes information confidential to the campaign.
Illustration by Marc Nadel