To anyone who has followed politics even casually this election cycle, it’s like peering into an alternate reality.
Utah’s two gubernatorial candidates, Republican Spencer Cox and Democrat Chris Peterson, standing together, about 6 feet apart, in front of a white backdrop. No attacks. No anger. No pandering to voters’ worst impulses.
Instead, a refreshing display of civility two weeks before Election Day and a reminder that sitting on opposite sides of the aisle does not make two people enemies.
“We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson says in one exchange, to which Cox responds, “We can disagree without hating each other.”
The public service ad, one of a couple the candidates released Tuesday, is a dramatic departure from the other political spots filling our airwaves and social media feeds. It didn’t take long for the videos to go viral. By the next day, they’d racked up millions of views and garnered press attention all over the globe, with the candidates appearing for joint television interviews on programs like “Today” and BBC News.
In putting differences aside and agreeing to share a message of unity and democracy — in one of the ads, each candidate pledges to accept the results of the presidential election — Cox and Peterson rose above the mudslinging that has come lately to define our politics and reminded the rest of the country that our democracy functions best when we keep sight of our shared humanity, even when our disagreements are real and meaningful.
The cynical among us may wonder if the candidates would have been on board if the contest were a little closer. Polls show Cox with a commanding lead in the race, unsurprising given that Utah hasn’t voted for a Democratic governor since 1980. It’s one thing to stand alongside your opponent when the campaign is all but decided. It’s another to do it when the outcome is in doubt.
But that doesn’t make the ads any less powerful during one of the most contentious periods in modern American history, a time when it’s becoming increasingly common for people to view those with a different political outlook as being somehow less American.
By providing a contrast to that kind of outlook — and waging respectful campaigns centered on ideas — Utah’s gubernatorial hopefuls elevated the political discourse in the state.
For that, Utahns should be grateful, regardless of which candidate they ultimately vote for.