With the acrimonious outbursts by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this week, it seems the general election will be a long and ferocious contest between the two. Since both contestants have chosen to go “negative”, it reminds me of the old precept in handling political campaigns that stated, “Negative ads are good – because they work.”
Proving that there is nothing new in politics, the upcoming rancor in the presidential contest carries me back to a long local political campaign in which I was intimately involved. It was the 1963 race for Reno Councilman at Large between then City Attorney Roy Torvinen and my candidate businessman Bill Gravelle.
After the primary election, which included several other candidates, Torvinen came out on top with a healthy lead over second-place Gravelle.
I remember taking an evening stroll with Gravelle as the results of that primary came in. Gravelle, who was a stoic figure, was almost moved to tears.
Immediately after what seemed to be a stunning defeat, we set about planning a new strategy for the general election where only Gravelle and Torvinen would compete. Gravelle, who had no previous political experience, was moved to enter the race because he had found out how dysfunctional the Reno City Council was when he had attempted to have a portion of South Virginia Street widened. Torvinen, on the other hand, had been involved heavily in City activities particularly on the issue of favoring registration of all firearms in the state, much like the gun-control supporters of today. This one issue rankled Gravelle because of the fact that he was an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman.
One of the best ways to attack your political opponent when you are behind is to challenge him to a debate.
Conversely, if you are ahead in the polls you tend to completely ignore your opponent, even to the point of not ever mentioning him by name. We fired salvo after salvo in the Press regarding the need for a debate, but Torvinen continued to dodge the issue. Finally, one day a local photographer, Don Dondero, informed me that Torvinen was due to speak to a service club at the Holiday Hotel and that from what he heard, Torvinen was going to answer some of the questions that Gravelle had been peppering him with. I asked Dondero if he could possibly photograph the speech in its entirety with a “sound on” movie camera. He replied he could possibly convince Torvinen that it would be a good feature that he could use in his own campaign. Consequently, Dondero was able to capture the whole speech, which gave us the opportunity to have Gravelle filmed rebutting all of Torvinen’s statements. The end result was that we were able to produce video that was highly slanted in Gravelle’s favor.
Another arrow in our quiver was the fact that Torvinen was the son of a high-ranking member of the Power Company and we used that in an ad the final Sunday prior to the election, stating that because of this familial attachment, once Torvinen got in the Council, he would be very amenable to raising the citizens’ power bills. I remember the first telephone call I got that Sunday morning was from DA Bill Raggio who said, “Boy you really stubbed your toe with that ad!” Ironically, on the following Tuesday election day while Gravelle and I were celebrating his massive win over Torvinen in the Coach Room of the Mapes, Raggio happened to come by and said as he shook Gravelle’s hand, “Let me be the first to congratulate you.”
Proving that political adversaries do not harbor long-standing grudges, it was many years later when Torvinen was running for District Judge, that he approached me to handle his winning campaign.