The candidates for the Rockville Mayor and Council submitted their second and last set of campaign finance statements before the November 3 election, giving voters an insight into the tactics of their campaigns. So far, more than $70,000 has been contributed to the various candidates and more than $100,000 has been spent. The $30,000 difference is due to personal loans or contributions that candidates make to their own campaigns–indeed, most of that is due to the extraordinary campaign of Richard Gottfried. His may be the most expensive campaign in this election and probably in the history of Rockville.
So far, Mr. Gottfried has received contributions of $1,880, the least of all candidates, yet has spent $39,617, the most of all candidates. He has loaned himself the difference and spent most of it on direct mail and campaign materials. By sending out at least four direct mail pieces, the first long before anyone else, and using what appears to be paid political consultants, he may be signaling a change in the way campaigns will be run in Rockville.
Without a widely distributed local newspaper, getting the attention and support of voters will have to rely on tactics in addition to the traditions of yard signs and precinct walking. For the moment, direct mail assures candidates that they can reach every voter but it’s also very expensive. Printing and postage are the biggest expense, but design and messaging are incredibly important as well. Most candidates don’t have that expertise and have to rely on outside professionals, often at a cost. As we are finding in state and federal elections, campaigning is as much about appearances and marketing as it is about issues and ideas, and that public image needs to be continually reinforced with an electorate that is bombarded by information and has a short attention span.
If this trend continues, how will Rockville voters distinguish among candidates in the future? Or will they simply withdraw from the sea of sound bites and slick mailers?