Updated: Johnson blasts negative ads from both sides in 13th District race

Updated 9:25 p.m. Tuesday.

CHAMPAIGN — Retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, is urging the Republican and Democratic candidates seeking to succeed him to "cease and desist" their negative television advertising.

And the six-term congressman again declined to endorse any of the three candidates in the 13th Congressional District race, including Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

"That's not why I'm here today," Johnson said. "I can tell you this, it would be difficult for me to endorse somebody with the tone that's been set here. It flies in the face of everything I've stood for."

Nearly $1.8 million has been spent so far in the 13th District race by so-called "independent" groups or superPACs, either against Davis or Democrat David Gill. The biggest "independent" spender has been the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has put more than half a million dollars into attack ads targeting Davis. But the National Republican Congressional Committee and three other groups have run negative ads targeting Gill.

"The 13th District in Illinois has become in many ways a cesspool for negativity," Johnson said Tuesday at his congressional office in Champaign. "I gave up this seat because of family circumstances, I don't in any way regret my decision. But I do regret the level to which this campaign has descended."

Johnson released letters he had sent last week to Gill, Davis, the DCCC and the NRCC, asking them to "stop funding the negative ad campaign" in the district.

"This is your race," he wrote in identical letters to Gill and Davis. "I believe you should demand a cease-fire and make it known that you have made such a demand. It is in your best interests as well as the best interests of the body politic."

The Davis campaign responded to Johnson's request by releasing a statement from former U.S. Rep. Tom Ewing, a Pontiac Republican who preceded Johnson in Congress. Ewing's son, Sam, also opposed Johnson in the 2000 Republican primary in the 15th District.

"I am proud of the way Rodney has conducted himself during an onslaught of false and negative ads, and I applaud him for continuing to talk about the many issues where he and Mr. Gill disagree. I believe it is vital for voters to understand the differences between Rodney Davis and David Gill on the issues," Ewing said.

There was no response to Johnson's request from Davis himself.

Gill responded to Johnson's letter with his own 10-paragraph letter saying that he too "was disappointed by the negative tone of these Super PACs."

But he did not pledge to halt the negative ads.

"Friends of David Gill has not aired a negative TV commercial or radio commercial so far in this race. I would prefer it if the DCCC, the NRCC, the American Action Network, the US Chamber of Commerce, the New Prosperity Foundation, and the Rodney Davis for Congress campaign hadn't chosen to immediately take that approach either," Gill wrote. "While I can express my disappointment with this negativity and hope these groups follow my lead, I have no control over the decisions of the DCCC or any other third party group."

Johnson said many of his constituents — he said he still speaks by telephone to about 200 people in his congressional district every day — asked him to speak out against the negative ads.

"I think I still have a right to reflect what my constituents say. My constituents — Republican, Democrat, Gill and Davis, liberal and conservative — all say this is bad stuff and you've got to change it. It hurts the process. It hurts the image. And it hurts the product," Johnson said.

"The half-truths, the outright lies, the attacks on your opponent have just reached a level where it's just unconscionable, and I didn't feel in good conscience that I could sit back and allow that to maintain itself," he said.

Johnson admitted "I'm hardly Simon pure but I certainly have not conducted myself this way," and said he felt an obligation to get involved in the race.

"If good people sit back and do nothing when evil is happening in the system, then I'm just as guilty as they are. So my hope is that as a result of today people are going to listen. I can't affect somebody in Indiana. Maybe I can't affect anybody in Illinois. But at least I'm going to send a message," he said.

Johnson, a co-founder of the Center Aisle Caucus in Congress, which advocates for civility and compromise, urged Davis and Gill to embrace a less-partisan tone in their campaigns.

"I think they're both honorable people who really want to do the right thing. But if they really want to do the right thing in the campaign, they're going to do it now and I think whoever is elected, that will carry over in their (congressional) service. If they can do it right now, they can also interact and work together with their colleagues once they're elected."

Gill, in a recent interview, maintained that he had no control over the ads produced and paid for by the DCCC. But Johnson dismissed the notion that the candidates couldn't tell the Washington-based partisan groups to stop the ads.

"I don't believe for one minute, my 8-year-old grandson wouldn't believe for one minute, that if David Gill and Rodney Davis were to say, as I hope they do, let's stop the negativity, let's stop the mudslinging, that the DCCC and the NRCC and the various superPACs are not going to listen to their candidate. That is just not believable," he said. "That is absurd to suggest that for one minute."

He said the sniping between Gill and Davis could end up benefiting independent candidate John Hartman of Edwardsville, who hasn't run any ads, let alone negative ones.

"I'm suggesting that when the two major parties engage in this kind of conflict, that the independent will inevitably benefit from it," he said.

If he were running for re-election, Johnson said, "It wouldn't have happened from me. I can guarantee you that had I run I would have done the same thing that I did for the last 44 years and, quite frankly, what I did a little of in the primary this year. I don't conduct myself in that manner. I don't engage in mudslinging."

He also urged voters to speak out against the negative campaigning.

"And the way it will not work is if constituents say, 'Enough is enough. I'm not going to support people who run negative ads. I'm not going to support people who attack their opponent. I'm not going to support people who engage in mud-slinging.'"

Johnson also said he believed the three candidates should debate more than once.

"I would like to see debates earlier in the process than on November first," he said of the debate at WILL-TV in Urbana.

If the presidential and vice presidential candidates can agree to four debates, Johnson said, "I would think that two or three people for Congress who only had to cover a fraction of one state could agree to more than one debate."

Comments

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pushpin1 wrote on October 03, 2012 at 3:10 am

Retire.

Truth Squad wrote on October 03, 2012 at 7:10 am

As a Republican who has always supported Tim Johnson every time I've seen him on the ballot, all I have to say is "go away." 

This campaign wouldn't be happening if he hadn't pulled a fast one on voters by stepping aside 9 days after the primary. Then he stabbed Jerry Clarke and Erika Harold in the backs. Now he wants to do the same to Rodney Davis. I'm glad I see all of the Davis signs that I do in Champaign-Urbana.

Good riddance, Tim Johnson. 

johnny wrote on October 03, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Beautifully written.  This is all Johnson's fault, yet he wants to play the white knight one more time.  Whatever the outcome of this race, at least Johnson will be gone.

787 wrote on October 03, 2012 at 8:10 am

Hey Tim... it isn't all about you anymore.  You decided to retire.  Now, ride off into the sunset... OK?

If you've now decided that you still want to be in the spotlight, you've made the wrong decision.  You bailed out when this area needed you the most.

Bulldogmojo wrote on October 03, 2012 at 10:10 am

Tim Johnson was clearly not the solution to the dysfunction and corruption of Illinois government, was he? Goodbye Tim.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on October 03, 2012 at 11:10 am
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Well, seeing as how his job was in federal rather than state government, I'm not sure how you can try to blame him for that.

I don't know how anyone could argue that Johnson was not the finest congressman in Illinois during his tenure.  He was, by leaps and bounds, the most independent and thoughtful of any of them.

I was very disappointed by his late departure from the race, which denied the voters their right to choose the nominee.  However, I will still miss having him as my congressman.

johnny wrote on October 03, 2012 at 1:10 pm

What exactly did he get done in Washington?  What exactly is his legacy?  I used to think he at least listened to his constituents, but that fairy tale evaporated this year.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on October 04, 2012 at 4:10 am
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Most congressmen don't retire with "legacies."  The House consists of a few alpha dogs at the top, and the rest fight for scraps.  Being a guy who actually thinks for himself and strays from the dogma of his party every once in a while, he never had a chance to be an alpha dog.  That privilege is reserved for only the most dedicated groupthinkers.

wayward wrote on October 03, 2012 at 11:10 am

Johnson's got a point, but I'd guess that the third parties have more money than the candidates themselves do, and lots of people are convinced that attack ads "work."  If he wanted to get really radical, he could have suggested that voters get their information about candidates from sources other than TV ads.

Sid Saltfork wrote on October 03, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The negative political ads work; or they would not exist.  They are not subtle.  They are not truthful.  They do not need to be clever, or honest.  They appeal to a segment of voters.  The same segment would also watch cartoon political ads.  Some voters do not need balanced news, differing opinions, or even facts.  Their minds are either made up, or undecided based on apathy.  The ads motivate them to physically vote.  Read the comments on Yahoo political articles.  One of the dangers of Democracy is that even the dumbest voters can cast their votes.  They may not know how many states are in the union, or who fought who in the Revolutionary War; but they can pick the political winner in an election.

I respect Tim Johnson for criticizing both candidates for allowing negative ads in their campaigns.  If the candidates can say "I endorse this ad"; they can say "I do not endorse this ad".  Has our country dumbed down to the point that special interest money backing candidates with negative ads decides who will win our votes?  

wayward wrote on October 03, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Given that the winner will almost certainly be either Gill or Davis, that means that political types will interpret whatever the result is as further evidence that attack ads "work."  *sigh*

The movie "Idiocracy" was supposed to be a comedy, but it's uncomfortably close to reality.

EL YATIRI wrote on October 06, 2012 at 1:10 am
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Sid just summed up how broken our system of government is.  Dishonesty works.  Honesty, reason, good ideas do not work.

The person with the most money wins.  Politicians spend most of their time groveling for money.  Those who give them money benefit from legislation and loopholes.

Disgusting.

read the DI wrote on October 03, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Tim Johnson speaks by phone to 200 constituents a day? Impossible. Say each call took 3 minutes. That's 600 minutes, or 10 hours a day, just on the phone to voters. At that rate, he wouldn't have time to give whiny interviews to the Snooze-Gazette!

Good riddance is right.

rsp wrote on October 03, 2012 at 9:10 pm

He starts in the morning and goes into the evening, but he doesn't connect with everyone. He's called my house twice when I was gone. Had a lot to say to him, too. 

read the DI wrote on October 04, 2012 at 6:10 am

So you're saying he speaks daily to 200 constituents' answering machines? Heck, those robocallers can do that!

 

Wait a minute...are you saying Tim Johnson is a robot? Hmmmm....it does explain some things....

 

mankind wrote on October 04, 2012 at 8:10 am

The truth is that negative ads work. People pay more attention when they feel threatened. They might feel annoyed by negative ads, and they might say they ignore them, but  studies have shown that negative messages linger longer in a person's mind and cause more emotional and psychological reaction. You don't see anyone holding press conferences to praise the quality of positive campaign ads, because most people's eyes glaze over when they come on.


The district has changed, Mr. Johnson. You can't win here anymore by simply having the big 'R' as your party affiliation. Never fear, we will survive the negative advertising.

Sid Saltfork wrote on October 04, 2012 at 11:10 am

It comes down to who has the most money backing them to pay for the ads.  At what point are human candidates necessary?  Will we have Max Headroom versus Yosemite Sam in the future?  There will be no Wonder Woman appointed by the party leadership though.  If an ex-Miss America was not appointed by the party this year instead of Davis, there is no hope for a Wonder Woman candidate in the future.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on October 04, 2012 at 6:10 pm
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If Harold is Wonder Woman, Rodney Davis is Elmer Fudd.

Sid Saltfork wrote on October 05, 2012 at 9:10 am

With Tim Johnson winning the primary; and later declaring that he is retiring from Congress; the GOP was able to appoint a candidate rather than the voters selecting one.  Davis was the appointee.  With a seat in the House of Representatives up for grabs, both parties are pumping money into the ads.  The Democrats want to break the Republican group of right wingers gridlock; and the Republicans want to maintain the ability to not compromise.  Whether Davis, or Gill wins there is a good chance that the gridlock will remain.  Would either of them compromise with the other party on issues for the good of the country?  Maybe, I missed it; but I have not heard either of them indicate that they would "reach across the aisle".  It seems that it is "all, or nothing" again in Congress.  Whether Romney, or Obama wins; it seems that the gridlock will continue.  There is no national unity for the good of the country.  I would vote for the Wizard of Oz if there was someone competent behind the curtain.  Maybe, Colin Powell can work out something with Dreamworks.