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In Campaign Intensity, Different Approaches for Sheriff's Candidates

Written By Editor on 9/16/13 | 9/16/13

Ethington Camp Leads in Enthusiasm

It would have seemed hard to believe, but this year's Sheriff campaign has already reached a higher pitch than the closely contested 2009 race. The 2009 contest gave Democratic and Conservative nominee Tony Desmond fewer than 50 more votes over Republican Bill Slater.

Today, the election calculus has been turned on its head. Desmond received the GOP's blessing in June, again crossing parties and leaving caucus opponent Todd Ethington to take to the Conservative and Independent lines. Cobleskill's Village Police Chief Larry Travis was a late entry in the race, nabbing the Democratic nomination after party chair Clifford Hay called Desmond an "opportunist."

The campaign itself began outside the design of the three candidates. In the spring, a recycled 2009 Desmond sign appeared at the corner of Route 145 and Schoolhouse Road between Middleburgh and Cobleskill. In response, candidate Ethington launched a barrage of hundreds of campaign signs across the County-- before Desmond could formally launch his re-election bid.

The tactic appeared to stir the campaign. Desmond announced on May 22 that he would begin placing his own signs up, but only at the end of the summer. Still, Ethington's gambit appeared to accelerate the campaign clock-- Desmond signs began cropping up by July. As reported in a Schoharie News exclusive, Mr. Travis unveiled his sign design last week.

Meanwhile, Ethington kept the early part of the race focused on his challenge to Desmond. While the two were still facing each other for the GOP nomination, Ethington eschewed much of the political kingmaking in exchange for time on the stump. The populist approach was a major gamble for the campaign, gaining him significant public traction but allowing Desmond time to hone his time with the Republican Party's County Committee. Deputy Ethington missed the annual 2013 Lincoln Day dinner while his intra-party opponents shook hands and took account of the committee members.

Desmond's approach to the GOP committee worked. On June 5th he amassed more weighted votes than Duane Tillapagh and Ethington put together. Ethington did not attend the event and declared that his campaign would persevere.

Meanwhile, Ethington's campaign began building a large influx of notoriety. His sign strategy certainly raised his profile, although the wording ruffled feathers in the Desmond campaign. In the July 17th issue of the Cobleskill paper, Desmond pushed back against what he considered a poor sign design, leading people to confuse who was the elected Sheriff. Desmond wrote: “Personally, I do not know of a “Sheriff Todd.” At this time I am the Schoharie County Sheriff.”

Meanwhile, Ethington's barnstorming exceeded that of both candidates. The Deputy's campaign visited just about every parade in the 2013 season. He and Desmond were featured in the 125th Middleburgh Fire Department Anniversary parade-- with Ethington balloons reaching dozens. The month prior, both candidates were represented at the Schoharie Memorial Day parade. While Desmond attended as the Sheriff, Ethington arrived with his campaign float. This led to several letters to the paper criticizing the candidate, including Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone, who wrote that he “has now used Memorial Day to shamelessly promote himself.”

Ethington's door to door campaign is the only one of the contesting nominees. He has focused on the less-populated parts of the County, seeming to build a substantial base in the Southern part of the County. His surprise barnstorming in Sharon Springs will not win him the township in November, but clearly gained momentum in Desmond's strongest location. The Deputy has also lifted a page from Desmond's 2009 playbook, currying favor with many of the local fire departments. Desmond carried most of the support from these volunteers in 2009, but has lost it since. Ethington can now count on the open support of the Chief of Middleburgh's FD, with several others likely to follow.

Absent at many of these events has been Larry Travis, whose last-minute entry into the Democratic primary process left him several weeks behind both of the other candidates. Travis has taken a bit of a middle ground between the others. While Desmond has been appealing to County officials and Ethington the larger crowds, Travis has been attending Town Caucuses and speaking with some of the most involved members of local political circles.

Online, only one candidate has a significant presence. All three have functional campaign websites, with Desmond's the best design, Ethington's the worst, and Travis' somewhere in the middle. Despite this, it is the Conservative Party candidate that has successfully utilized the power of social media. As of Sunday, September 15th all three had Facebook groups. Larry Travis has 129 "likes," Desmond 110, and Ethington an impressive 659. Ethington is the only candidate that has regularly communicated with supporters through this method, successfully pushing for his allies to get in as many absentee ballots and voter registrations for November. Following an election that was decided by a hair, this is a clear advantage even if it is only one of many split between the troika.

Of the three candidates, these approaches appear to have different effects. While Tony Desmond's support among the GOP establishment appears rock solid, discontent over some policies have led to murmurs of aloofness. Meanwhile, Ethington's scattershot approach has lacked the discipline a more experienced candidate could forward. Travis' middle road has resulted in his having the lowest profile of the group but the least negativity focused against his campaign.
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Administrator said...

Tony Desmond was a Republican Party stalwart until 2009 when he ditched the party to run as the Democratic Party Candidate for Sheriff.

This year he betrayed his Democratic supporters by defecting back to the Republican Party in order to run for re-election which raises the question: where in their political experience did Lew Wilson and his republican cohort get the idea that deceit and disloyalty are characteristics rank and file voters admire in a candidate?

Walter F. Wouk

Unknown said...

Just to update you there are only 4 towns I have not gotten to yet. By this weekend I will have been in every town. I am not focusing on anyone area or town, because ever town in the County matters to me, no matter how big or small.

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