- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

The election is getting hot. Literally.

Recent incidents saw Bush-Cheney signs set on fire and Kerry-Edwards signs stolen in Minnesota. Before that, a gunman in Tennessee fired several rounds into a Bush campaign office. In Ohio, someone used a baseball bat to smash a mailbox with Kerry stickers on it.

Be it petty or legitimate, there has been an increase in reports of politically driven vandalism and violence committed both by Kerry and Bush supporters whose passions apparently are burning out of control.

A search of archived press reports nationwide indicated a significantly higher number of reports during the past few months compared with the same periods during the 2000 and 1996 presidential elections.

Some of the worst are in Maryland, where the Baltimore Sun reported that a bullet was fired last week through a window of the Ellicott City home of Anthony McGuffin, an active Democrat and former candidate for Congress.

In front of the home, there was a Kerry-Edwards sign and one for Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. Several people have been arrested in Maryland for stealing or cutting such signs to the ground.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, meanwhile, classified the Minnesota incidents more as pranks than as political statements. Regardless of what they are called, reports of petty violence span the country.

The Associated Press carried a report last month of a Medford, Ore., man whose car, which had a Bush sticker on it, was scratched. The report also noted that a Southern Oregon University student said three cars in his apartment complex had their windows smashed during the primaries. All three had Bush stickers affixed to them.

Vandals also hit the Democratic headquarters in Medford, spitting on doors and windows, and breaking light bulbs. To prevent theft, one resident is said to have constructed a wire enclosure around his Kerry-Edwards sign.

Although it appears as if political passions are raging at never-before-seen levels, Leonard Steinhorn, a communications professor at American University, said a more likely scenario is that during recent years, “the demonizing of your opponent has become a part of the mainstream media.”

There always has been passion said Mr. Steinhorn, who teaches a course on the election. He noted that the rich history of insults exchanged by candidates as far back as Presidents John Adams or Thomas Jefferson would be considered out of bounds by today’s standards.

It’s difficult to classify current passions as increased, rather, Mr. Steinhorn contends, liberals who had become complacent over the years now see the Bush administration as a threat. As a result, their anger has been aroused to match the passions of conservatives.

“What you’ve had is this sort of bubbling anger particularly among conservatives for many years, particularly stoked by talk radio and validated by the fact that it was in the media,” he said. “But now, with George Bush in office, you have an aroused liberal America.”

Only a small number of reports of violence turned up for the 2000 election, and they were focused mainly on squabbling over campaign signs in several towns and communities.

One notable case was that of a group of college Republicans from the University of New Orleans and Tulane University campuses who showed up at a Gore-Lieberman rally with pro-Bush signs.

According the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, several men wearing Gore campaign tags jumped over a barricade, wrestled the signs away from the Republicans and shredded them.

No one was hurt in another incident that saw a campaign sign on the Bethesda lawn of then-Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican, set on fire.

A break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s New York office in 2000 briefly had people talking of another Watergate. But news of the break-in, in which a three laptops reportedly were stolen, faded quickly.

Talk of a Watergatelike incident surfaced again in some circles in Washington state last week though, after burglars broke into the state’s Bush-Cheney headquarters and stole three laptops containing campaign plans. A police spokeswoman said there was no indication that it was “politically motivated,” according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

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