cam·paign glos·sa·ry:

With Election Day around the corner, the political jargon is everywhere. Does this sound familiar? “In addition to his grassroots campaign, perennial candidate X is getting help from an outside special interest group and its soft money which will be used in third-party ads.” Whew! Here’s a guide to help make sense of the sometimes wacky political campaign season leading up to Nov. 7:

19–14 and 59–39 – majorities Republicans hold in state Senate and state Assembly; Democrats hope to pick up seats in both houses and maybe take control of the Senate; Republicans scoff at idea.

Blogs – online journals; favorite means for political observers and wannabes to expound on campaigns and candidates; sometimes contain heavy doses of rumor and innuendo.

Coalition for America’s Families – running anti-Jim Doyle ads; headed by a former chairman of the state Republican Party and a longtime party activist; see third-party ads.

Fair Wisconsin – group formed to defeat marriage amendment; well-funded; run by former Howard Dean staffer; spending gobs of money on TV commercials.

Family Research Institute of Wisconsin – No. 1 goal is passing marriage amendment; well-funded; started campaign by sending four thousand DVDs to Wisconsin churches.

Grassroots – a term politicians are trying to redefine to evoke images of grandmas holding bake sales and giving the proceeds to candidates; many “grassroots campaigners” are political operatives taking time off from state-paid jobs.

Greater Wisconsin Committee – running anti-Mark Green ads; headed by former Chuck Chvala fundraiser and linked to a former Doyle campaign adviser; see third-party ads.

John McCaffry – the last person executed in Wisconsin, hanged in 1851 for killing his wife; the state abolished the death penalty in 1853, but voters will weigh in on an advisory referendum that asks whether lawmakers should revive capital punishment in the Badger State.

La Follette – Wisconsin’s most famous political family; distant relative Secretary of State Doug La Follette faces rare primary challenge from former campaign operative Scot Ross; voters decide if the La Follette name means anything in an election almost no one cares about.

Perennial candidate – citizen who runs for any and every office he or she is eligible for and never wins; synonym for token opposition; examples include Robert Gerald Lorge, Ben Masel and Dawn Marie Sass.

Special interest groups – a phrase candidates use to describe organizations that have not contributed any money to their campaigns but have given generously to their opponents.

Third-party ads – aka “527s” or “independent groups”; advertising from groups technically not affiliated with candidates; often the harshest attack ads against candidates because viewers don’t know who’s behind them; see Coalition for America’s Families, Greater Wisconsin Committee.

Turnout – About forty percent of eligible voters turned out in 2002, when Gov. Jim Doyle was elected; ballot issues including proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions expected to bring voters out in higher numbers this year.

Uncontested races – a.k.a. “free rides”; thirty-seven incumbents, or one-third of all state legislators, get to keep their jobs because they face no opposition on the ballot, including five Assembly members from the Madison area.

Reality check – Political TV ads are full of distortions, half-truths and outright lies. It seems like the campaigns will say or do anything to get a vote. Colin Benedict reveals a few of their tricks: Reality Check – Political TV Ad Tricks

Colin Benedict ( is WISC-TV3’s political reporter. He’s lived in the Madison area since 1995. Jenny Price ( covered Wisconsin politics and the state capitol for The Associated Press from 1999 to 2005.

Madison Magazine - September 2006
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