Campaign Signs Fight For Attention In Crowded Election

Aug 7, 2014

Credit WUOT News, Matt Shafer Powell

A hopeless romantic might say the collection of campaign signs on the corner of Robertsville Road and the Oak Ridge Turnpike looks something like a flower garden, a festive, mid-summer explosion of reds, whites and blues.

“It’s ugly, it’s a nuisance and there’s no reason for it,” says Georgia Hudson, passing through the gauntlet of signs on her way to the Oak Ridge Visitors’ Center.  “I think they should be banned statewide.”

So much for hopeless romance.

As early voting wound down last week, the lawn in front of Oak Ridge’s Midtown Community Center had been transformed into an assembly of campaign signs, all competing for every inch of space and even more importantly, for the attention of the voters coming to the center to cast their ballots.  

Much to the chagrin of voters like Charles Guthrie, they've become as much a part of campaign culture as dubious promises and babies in need of a kiss.  "This is ridiculous, all these signs," he says, taking in the spectacle around him.  "Some people's got eight, nine signs out.  And it's ridiculous."    

For Anderson County candidates and their volunteers, the space outside the voting center is prime real estate.  A well-placed campaign sign might create a little last-minute name recognition for a candidate. “I know there’s quite a bit of signs around here,” says Patti Skelton,  who's campaigning for her son-in-law Ryan Spitzer, a general session judge candidate.  “But it’s not obstructing traffic or anything and it’s doing what we want it to do.”

Sitting beneath a shade tent nearby, Anderson County Commission candidate Denny Phillips says he’s decided to refrain from tossing his signs into the mosh pit in front of him.  But he doesn’t fault those candidates who do and he thinks the clustering of signs actually creates a celebratory atmosphere.  “We have had three or four families stop in here from Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and they stopped to take pictures of everything,” he says. “Contrary to some of the naysayers here, they said it looked really neat and that it looked like an event and that we take our politics seriously here.”

Even in the digital age, campaign strategist and yard sign authority Ben Donahower says the signs can still lend some much-needed name recognition to challengers and candidates for small, local offices.  But he says it’s important to understand there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it.

For instance, Donahower advises candidates to stay away from the ever-popular red, white and blue signs.  “If you’re running for elected office, I promise you the voters realize that you’re a patriotic blue-blooded American.  Don’t be like every other yard sign out there or you’re just going to get lost in the shuffle.”

Donahower remembers one particular sign that made an impression on him. “I worked with a candidate that had blue background with blaze, hunter-orange names,” he says, “and it was the ugliest yard sign you ever did see, but you couldn’t possibly miss it.”

A blue sign with orange letters may not create hopeless romantics out of the sign-haters.  But if it leads to another vote on election day, it’s done its job.