Partisan ads are normal part of Greenville politics

Amanda Curran | PNN contributor

People expect local elections in Greenville to be nonpartisan, but using partisanship as a campaign strategy is not anything out of the ordinary.

In fact, it came up in the city mayoral election this fall. Councilman At-Large Calvin Mercer released a radio advertisement linking his opponent, Councilman P.J. Connelly, to President Donald Trump. And that got Mercer accused of inserting party politics into the race.

Mercer ended up losing the Nov. 7 election to Connelly, taking 40.4 percent of the vote to Connelly’s 53.7 percent.

Before Election Day, Mercer’s ad against Connelly ran for less than a week and targeted Greenville’s African American community. Mercer told PNN that this was due to Trump’s toxicity to African American voters.

“We wanted to make sure the African American community knew the vision between the two candidates they were voting on. I guess you can say that’s making it partisan,” said Mercer. “I just wanted the candidates to be clear to the voters with who they are, and I felt that Connelly was trying to hide that part of his profile.”

Connelly did not respond to PNN’s requests for an interview.

Although many people expressed shock by Mercer’s radio ad, it is a typical campaign strategy used by many previous local candidates.

“North Carolina has always been traditionally Democratic, so it’s a typical behavior for local candidates to try and use that [being Democrat] in their favor,” said Greenville historian Roger Kammerer. “After the Civil War coming forward, it’s always been that way.”

This was Mercer’s reasoning for using the radio ad during the race.

“It was somewhat of a campaign strategy. If I’m not a Trump supporter in a city that did not go for Trump, I’m going to stress that, and it’s in Connelly’s strategic interest to hide the fact that he went for Trump,” said Mercer.

This behavior goes beyond partisanship. Kammerer said that candidates use religious affiliation and personal matters as campaign strategies as well.

“Once you jump into the political fight, you might as well sand-paper your soul. Everything you say is going to haunt you. That’s why a lot of people don’t usually get into politics,” said Kammerer. “What gets appalling about all of this is when candidates get super low and bring in certain moral things that should never be brought up.”

Curran produced this story for her fall 2017 Media Writing & Reporting class.