Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 3, 2011

What’s in your mailbox?

During election season, every voter’s mailbox gets filled to the brim with a smorgasbord of political mailers. In this post, I was going to walk you through what goes into a successful persuasion piece and examine some of the pieces to cross my hands recently. If you are looking for my advice and endorsements about who to vote for this election, please see my 2011 Voter’s Guide.

I have already touched on this subject this year with my earlier fact-checking of a terribly misleading mailer put out by the Pike Campaign. I will be fact-checking these mailers as we examine them. However, I would like to point out that graphic design work is essentially non-partisan. I can love a candidate’s campaign pieces and passionately disagree with them. You can also click any of the pictures for a bigger view. Alright, enough preamble. Let’s dive in.

Positive Campaign Introduction Piece: This is by far the most common, especially for local candidates where there are few sources for information and voters are largely unfamiliar with the people running for these offices. These pieces usually have a large picture of the candidate, usually a shot of their family, the office they are seeking prominently displayed and their platform in a couple bullet points.

I received two pieces from County Executive candidate Jack Louws this year, and was impressed by both of them. I am an unabashed fan of his graphic designer, who did some work for Tony Larson last year, and whose touch is sorely missing from Larson’s current campaign material.

This piece has a strong front. Jack Louws looks calm, confidant yet business like. His face, name and office dominate the piece and he even teases a bit about his platform. The back however, is CHOKED with text. It is well organized, with bolded topics, and pictures lining up with the website prominent, but it suffers from having too many words. Most people only glance and mailers, they do not read them.

However, this piece is divine ambrosia compared to his opponent. I give you, Doug Ericksen’s mailer.

Right off the bat, you can see a problem. One side is oriented vertically while the other is horizontal, letting to confusion. Let’s take a look at the front. We have the slightly tacky flag motif but points for getting his name out there. His name appears no less than TEN TIMES on this piece, three of those times in bold letters on the front. His image might be a little smaller but his giant name makes up for it. I’m not really sure about the funky font choices. Usually the rule of thumb is try not to do more than two things to your font.

Which is why I am baffled as to the random PAPYRUS font on the cover. That’s the part that says “Why voters are turning out for Doug”. Papyrus is cranberry sauce of the font family. You pull it out of the cabinet once a year for a very specific purpose. Try and serve it any other time and people look at you like you are crazy.  It is like a chunk of a whole seperate piece got left in the middle of this, and they decided just to leave it there. Weird.

The back is stronger. A simple couple of eye-catching images, not much text, clear bullet points. By the way, it wouldn’t be a political junkie post about Doug Ericksen without mentioning his attempt to have a citizen journalist arrested or his disdain for the working people of Whatcom County.

Negative Attack Pieces

The second most popular piece of political mail is directly attacking another candidate. These can be funded by a campaign, but most often they are handled by independent groups. Here is a great piece by Washington Conservation Voters

Again we have the horizontal/vertical problem, but for some reason, it doesn’t bother me as much here. Notice the heavy black and reds, colors that are hardwired as negative in our minds after years of conditioning. It is light on text, heavy on visuals, you can quickly and easily grasp the main point, and best of all, it is true, which is a rarity among negative pieces.

Personally, my favorite part of this mailer is that it cited this blog (see right there, the first check point) as one of its resources. I did some research about Sam Crawford’s ethical problems and compiled them here. Now I have been quite critical of Washington Conservation Voter’s political efforts this year, and after I spoke out about the misguided focus of Dan Pike’s mayoral campaign and Dan Pike’s attempts to mislead the public about his opponent’s positions, I received calls from two of their board members asking for me to delete the posts. So I was highly amused to see that I was the most credible source when it comes to Sam Crawford’s unethical behavior, but fact-checking my own party? Irresponsible!
Here is an uglier attack piece that arrived today.

First of all, in terms of effectiveness, this is a really strong piece. Heavy black imagery, the coal-filed trains and the bulldozer, really consistent font and layout. Well done. Too bad it is misleading. Similar to the misleading piece that Dan Pike’s campaign put out, this piece tries to twist Kelli Linville’s pretty clear cut position (I’m against a coal port, I’m for some sort of facility up there, but this project is not the right thing for our county) into support for coal trains. The Pike campaign’s efforts have been so overt that the Cascadia Weekly, who endorsed Dan Pike, called him out on it in his latest column.

One candidate is willing to make unequivocal statements on coal transport, and is willing to mischaracterize the other candidate’s nuance on the topic. But as managers of city assets, the on-the-ground, practical response each candidate offers is essentially identical.

But back to the piece itself. By putting die-hard conservative Sam Crawford next to lifelong Democrat Kelli Linville, this piece is connecting them in people’s minds. I imagine that this mailer was NOT sent to Republicans but rather just to Democrats to try and persuade them that Kelli Linville is secretly a conservative, coal-loving Republican. Disappointing but effective.

In an attempt to end on a positive note, here is my favorite piece this year.

They say that a mail piece should reflect a candidate, and this could not be more true for Steve Oliver. His piece is straight forward and direct. His name, his office, a small boring picture and the command (“Re-elect”). Boom. Nothing more, nothing less.  Even his picture supports this. Look at that haircut. It literally says, “I’m level-headed!” The back is even better. Family picture, a couple of simple bullet points but not too much text and the endorsements at the bottom. He doesn’t even get into details on the endorsements because it doesn’t matter. He has already told us all we need to know. He’s a no-frills sort of guy who gets straight to the point and is by the book. Exactly the qualities you look for in a County Treasurer.

Okay folks, that’s it for today. More posts coming. I will be doing a live-blog this Tuesday from a variety of election night parties, and hope that you will tune in.



  1. Good analysis, Riley.

    It’ll be interesting to see all the king’s horses and men try to put Bham back together again after running some kind of litmus and purity test on the coal issue. It’s starting to feel a bit like McCarthyism around here.

    • I will be waiting with open arms to help unite these groups for the 2012 election. We will need everyone to stop the Mittster.

    • I’m predicting serious coal fatigue after the election.

  2. I won’t speak ill of Whatcom WCV, I will just think it. Thanks for the update. I will am a long time WCV member including fornerly on the board and endorsed 5 times. I am apparently off their mailing list this election cycle and not qualified to receive a No Coal sign despite my views on CO2 which I will note they fail to mention in their nasty mailer.

    • There would’ve been greater benefit in going negative against Tony Larson in the service of someone who actually would have decided the coal train issue, not to mention Lake Whatcom management and the reconveyance: Pete Kremen. Focusing on the mayoral race with such fervency seems so inappropriate on so many levels. And such a waste.

      • Finally you agree with me Frances!

        “Focusing on the mayoral race with such fervency seems so inappropriate on so many levels. And such a waste.”

        I couldn’t have said it any better.

      • Frances – Nobody wishes we could have weighed in on Kremen’s behalf more than me. Two opportunities in as many years to take out Larson. Oh man! In any case, we had major donor imposed restrictions placed upon us. Our hands were tied.

        I hope you will share some of your criticism with the Weekly and Herald. If it were not for them focusing on Mayor Pike week-after-week the county races would surely be more high profile. Tim Johnson knocked the Mayor in the Gristle 3-4 times in the last several months alone! And then goes on to endorse him. And then goes on to criticize him. WTF!?

        Nonetheless, because Bellingham has recently been a sinkhole compared to the county when it comes to turnout we should all be thankful that the mayor’s race is indeed so high profile. Maybe we’ll reverse the trend that Tim Johnson has written about – helping city voters give a shit about what goes down in the county. Chances are improved that be it Mayor Pike or Kelli Linville you get out to vote for, you are more likely to also vote for Kremen, Maginnis, Black, Lehman, Weiss, Fleetwood, Bornemann and against I-1125. Especially since, if you live in Bellingham, Ferndale and many other parts of the county, you recieved WCV’s slate card directly at your door.

        In that regard, WCV will gladly take some credit. When all is said and done we may share some hard numbers with you about what are field campaign and independent expenditures amounted to but it will change your perspective on our strategic priorities. Should also massivily impress you. This is not the WCV Whatcom chapter you used to know.

        Lastly, the one thing we’ll never know is how differently things might have been had Kelli not been recruited into this race. In Tim Johnson’s endorsement of Mayor Pike, he rightly pointed out that she was the only person in this entire community that could successfully take on the mayor (can’t beat having your name on the ballot every two years for the past 16). I and countless others pleaded with Kelli to run elsehwere. It divided our community in ways (time, money, energy, headlines) that took our eye off the real prize. I am hardly the first person to suggest this.

        Executive was always WCV’s top priority and we backed that up with big money and volunteer hours way back in July. All that sadly seems like ancient history now.

      • Am I not to write about the mayor or the City of Bellingham at any time during an election?

        I’ll weigh in here because I was called out several times. Since the beginning of July, I have discussed COB politics a total of six times, half of those regarding continued dustups with Port of Bellingham and County policy. Two others in reference to the highly contentious drama around Chuckanut Ridge, a story I have covered thoroughly since about 2002. Was I not to discuss that? I essentially gave the mayor a pass on CR, so I don’t want to hear that I’ve been picking on him.

        By issuing an endorsement, the Weekly did not sign away its ability to call the mayor out on ongoing administrative issues.

    • This mailer went to people like me who live in Bellingham and in the 42nd and have voted for Kelli in the past, that is to say Strong Dems. After they endorsed Dave Riechert over Susan DelBene in the 8th in ’10, I really began to question their endorsement criteria. That mailer was very upsetting to me, casting Kelli in the same light as Sam Crawford. Really stunk.

      • Incorrect!

        WCV does not endorse in federal races. Only state and local.

    • Thanks for the compliments Riley. I’ll be sure to pass them on to HQ as the local chapter had practically zero influence on them. We just raised the money.

      And I may be wrong, but it was not our intention to compare Linville and Crawford. Honestly never occured to me before you made that assertion. Not true but go ahead and keep putting that out there.

    • Dan,

      We won’t speak ill of you either.

      Why would we note your views on CO2 in a mailer?


  3. Thanks, Riley, for taking the mailers apart. It is interesting to look at what the message says about the sender. Shameful attempts at smearing Kelli. I grew up in D.C. Herbert Block, cartoonist (Herblock) for the Washington Post during the McCarthy era always pictured McCarthy with a brush sloshing tar on people – and getting a lot of it on himself in the process. The senator looked like a loathsome creature in those cartoons, but he clearly he was incapable of feeling shame. “Have you no decency, Sir?”

  4. It’s more like 17th century Salem but with a twist. One must be REALLY REALLY HYSTERICAL ABOUT COAL to not be burned at the stake. This willingness to bring out a machete and slash our community in half hasn’t helped us stop the coal train. It will take all of us to fight Peabody Coal.

    I think what works about the Oliver piece is the color on the back: fresh, ocean colors that feel like a breath of clean air. Love it. Plus the headers convey exactly what he wants. It’s a standout.

    I disagree about the Louws pieces. The one on the sofa, fine, but the one with all the seniors and Tim Douglas looking like a disco hit man? Just odd. By contrast Doug Ericksen does what the many, many men running for office rarely do: he includes women. Not just one, but lots of women.

    • “Tim Douglas looking like a disco hit man?”

      Great, there’s an image I will NOT be able to get out of my head.

    • Pete had a funny outcry about that piece. “Gene and Yvonne Goldsmith?! Couldn’t he have found someone else, *anyone* else? What was he thinking?!”

      If Tim Douglas looks strained in that photo it was because he was placed in the same universe with those two. Even as a Photoshop cut-&[paste job it was too much for TD 😉

    • Lisa,

      For all your good deeds (of which there are MANY I am thankful for) you also know something about dividing our community.

      Convince us that anything would be different if it were McShane versus Linville.

      I am just saying.


  5. As for women on male candidates’ literature : Lilliquist had Barbara Ryan on it, Al Jensen had Kelli on it, and Richard May had mayor Pratt and councilwoman Jones on it. So there’s three where strong female leaders were featured.

  6. […] including John Servais from NWCitizen. Also, Todd Donovan (WWU Political Science Professor, and Washington Conservation Voters Board Member) and Gene Knutzen (City Councilman) will be doing local election coverage streaming online here. It […]

  7. Tim,

    Of course I want you to write about such things. You are the best damn journalist in this town.

    The assertion going around and repeated here by Frances is that WCV has inappropriately focused on the mayor’s race and has squandered opportunity on the county races.

    Not true and my point is that the press (yes, you included) are more to blame for the distraction than we are.


    • If it’s not true, Andy, then share what really happened. I’m a businessperson and both like and understand financial analysis.

      As for a theoretical McShane versus Linville match up, I’m betting it would have stayed much much more civil. For one thing, Dan McShane might actually have had a positive record with campaign promises with which to campaign on. Contrast that with Dan Pike who has no progress on Lake Whatcom, no progress with the permit dept overhaul, a stain re: red light cameras and a debt-loving land deal in the Chuckanuts. 

      I am convinced the coal issue is such a huge deal in this election precisely as a diversionary tactic, to avoid talking real issues that will actually occur and be decided upon within city limits.

    • I agree with you, Andy, that superior organization and energy has produced superior attention on the issue. If only Lake Whatcom generated such interest…

      My hope is there is a game plan for after the election to mend fences.

  8. […] scenario launched an aggressively negative campaign (see some of my coverage of that here and here) towards Kelli Linville in an attempt to eat away at her Democratic vote, and it seemed to work. […]

  9. […] course, election night. We’ve dug deep through internal documents of the City of Bellingham, debunked some misleading political mailers, and pointed out some hypocrisy from our local radio […]

  10. […] or the unsuccessful efforts of the local Washington Conservation Voters this last campaign cycle (see here for more details). Instead, they are fixing upon the point that the citizens of any municipality can reclaim their […]

  11. […] Tim Paxton exchange words Whatcom Dems chair Natalie McClendon enters while police officer looks on Washington Conservation Voters Board Member Alex Ramel Matt Krogh of […]

  12. […] sign near their house? Was it one of the phone calls that your volunteers made? Maybe it was that cleverly designed mailer you sent out? Or that great ad on the radio? Or maybe they just read some blogger’s online […]

  13. […] represented by an anti-working people crusader, journalist threaten-er and worst of all, user of Papyrus font in his mailers, Doug Ericksen (R), who after getting his electoral behind handed to him by County Executive Jack […]

  14. […] 3rd annual Candidate Jeopardy on Saturday, July 21st. While I have been critical of some of their campaign tactics in the past, they can be effective at mobilizing large groups of voters around environmental issues and this […]

  15. […] picking a side, however I supported the candidates supported by Whatcom Conservation Voters and they endorsed Pike, so I was an awkward […]

  16. […] yard signs’ effectiveness, we can all agree that solid design is essential. Two years ago, I did an analysis of local political mailers, this year, I’m going to take a swing at  yard signs. So, in spaghetti western style, here […]

  17. […] more insight on political mailers, check out my analysis of local election flyers in 2013 and in 2011. As always, you can help support citizen journalism with a donation […]

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