Will ice cream help voters forget Josh Newman’s vote for the gas tax?

By Joel Fox | In reading about state senate candidate Josh Newman’s new attention-getting gimmick to hand out ice cream to potential voters, it made me think of George Washington.

No, I’m not making a political comparison between the country’s first president and the ex-Orange County senator who is in a quest to reclaim his former state senate seat—but there is a similar approach in their vote-getting. 

Joel Fox

Newman, who won his first election to the senate by dressing as a grizzly bear and carrying a sign to support his candidacy, hopes to make a comeback by purchasing an ice cream truck and going around the district handing out free ice cream with pro-Newman information printed on the ice cream wrappers. 

The one-time senator was recalled from his office because of his vote on raising gas taxes. Republican Ling Ling Chang replaced him. Now he wants the seat back in the next election. 

Whether it’s policy direction or ice cream that would sway voters, we shall soon see. However, the method of luring voters to a candidate’s side by handing out some goods is older than the country itself. Potholders with the candidate’s name stenciled on them are a longtime, familiar giveaway in this state. 

However, ice cream is a new wrinkle—the commodity of choice a couple of centuries back was liquor. 

A U.S. News article earlier in the decade described how George Washington put liquor to good use in his election to the House of Burgesses, as told by Washington biographer Dennis Pogue:

The father of the nation lost his first campaign in 1755 to the House of Burgesses largely because he didn’t put on an alcohol-laden circus at the polls. That year, Washington got 40 votes. The winner, who plied voters with beer, whiskey, rum punch, and wine, got 271 votes. A quick learner, Washington won three years later with the help of alcohol. “What do you know, he was successful and got 331 votes,” says Pogue. 

Alcohol at the polls is out in modern America. Ice cream is okay.

However, it will be the policy differences between the candidates that will determine the election. Newman is counting on a greater turnout than appeared during the recall election, and the increasing strength of Democrats in the state and the region.

But will the voters remember the reason Newman was recalled? The gas tax issue could once again be the key. While the election is months away, this column is being written on July 1—the day that the gas tax in California is being increased by the 6 cents a gallon to which Newman acquiesced. The issue of the gas tax could still play with the voters in this senate district, certainly more so than ice cream.

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