Dear Dr. Bob,
My opponent is trying to ‘smear’ me with a bogus compliant to state election officials. Some news media are using this as a story. What do I do?
My condolences. Getting ‘smeared’ is no fun and, unfortunately, there is not a whole lot that can be done about it depending on the laws in your area. Both you and your opponent are “public figures” so going to court for being slimed is not really an option. And it is very unlikely election officials are going to do much before the election.
(But watch out for possible partisan actions like “We’re investigating” statements.)
So here’s the box that a complaint puts you in:
If you react you run the risk that more voters (and other media) will hear about the allegation than would if you do nothing.
If you don’t react you run the risk that an unanswered allegation will be assumed truthful.
I tend to side with fighting back, but with a spin that does not repeat the allegation. In other words, saying “I did not take illegal campaign contributions…” just gets the allegation out there. I’m more of a “My opponent is getting desperate, tossing mud in every direction, hoping to win by tricking voters; all because when it comes to solving problems like our broken school system he doesn’t have a clue and doesn’t care….”
On occasion I’ll try a direct turnaround: “My opponent says I did something wrong and is trying to con election officials about it. The fact is that we’ve done nothing wrong, he knows it, and he wants to get elected so badly that he’ll not tell the truth to voters.”
Get the idea?
As I said earlier, there are no silver bullets for dealing with this kind of assault, so just try to follow the prescription: Briefly acknowledge the issue, pivot an tossing the motivation back at the opponent…and do it with the hardball.