LACONIA — After Democrat Mason Donovan entered the race for New Hampshire Senate District 7, he received a call from his Republican incumbent, Harold French, wishing him well.
And, when French won the Nov. 6 election, 11,616-10,141, the two men vowed to get together to hoist a beer.
In today’s world of polarized politics, such courtesy may seem unusual, but it shouldn’t be, French said Monday.
“We are all trying to do the same thing, only in different ways,” he said. “There’s just no reason for the negativity. Mason ran a good campaign, we just had opposite philosophies.”
Donovan, 49, who lives on a 106-acre farm in Boscawen and is a business consultant on workforce diversity, campaigned on improving the economy, the environment and education. French, 60, of Franklin, an auctioneer and real estate broker, focused on creating a smaller, less-intrusive government.
“I walk away feeling good,” Donovan said. “I slept well. We complimented each other at campaign forums. We didn’t go personal and we didn’t go negative.”
From a strictly political viewpoint, negativity doesn’t always work. Donovan said negative ads sometimes build name recognition for an unknown candidate. French told him that was the case two years ago when he narrowly beat Andrew Hosmer, who then held the seat.
Attack ads also discourage people from running for elective office.
“There are people who could be great legislators, but knowing that every skeleton is going to be dug up in a sort of burn-the-bridges approach reduces the number of people who want to be active,” he said. “There’s no way to solve it except on the individual level, and that’s why I‘m proud of the way Harold and I conducted ourselves.”
Negative campaigning also tends to destroy goodwill, making it harder to work in a bipartisan fashion after an election.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot when we do that,” Donovan said.
Such advertising also needlessly and unfairly destroys reputations.
“They will take a little piece of whatever they can and they will put hyperbole on it,” Donovan said. “The Democrats do the same.
“Maybe the ad will say someone was charged with a crime. But it will never say that person was found innocent. You are ruining that person’s life. I don’t subscribe to that.”
Even when candidates run clean campaigns with no mudslinging, attack ads often get placed by outside, independent groups.
Donovan, a former selectman in Webster, said that was the case in this campaign.
“They said I missed half of all official town board meetings, but if you see the footnote, this was when I was a volunteer alternate on the Planning Board,” he said.
Alternates can vote on a town board if a regular board member is absent, but if all board members are planning to be present for a given meeting, alternates often do not attend.
Donovan said he was accused in third-party ads of being a “rich, liberal, jet-setting around the world to give $20,000 speeches to celebrities and billionaires,” when in reality he has a successful business consulting firm but hasn’t traveled outside the country in a year.
The truth was also skirted on independent ads concerning town budgets and fees, he said.
“That part of it does leave a bad taste in the mouth,” Donovan said.
But on the whole, Donovan said the campaign was a good experience, and he feels good that the Democratic Party ended up winning control of the state House of Representatives and the New Hampshire Senate.
“It’s a relief that we did that,” he said. “If I didn’t win mine and we didn’t flip the House, it would be very depressing.
“You move on. It’s really a volunteer position in the end. It pays $100 a year. It’s not a career like in some other states. You are not fighting for a job.”
Coincidentally, French and Donovan have a couple connections outside the political realm.
French’s father was the real estate agent on the deal in which Donovan purchased his farm, and one of French’s cousins hays the property.
Senate District 7 takes in Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Franklin, Gilford, Northfield, Salisbury, Webster and Laconia.