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Opinion As Virginia election season draws to a close, beware the mail

A sign points toward voting booths in Purcellville, Va., in 2018. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has resurfaced in the final days of the 2019 campaign season, making a pitch for Democratic legislative candidates in a gauzy online ad titled, interestingly enough, “Courage.”

It’s an interesting choice — both in title and its diminished star — for a closing argument. Then again, Northam probably couldn’t stomach former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) getting all the credit for whatever gains Democrats make in the Nov. 5 elections.

But let’s set those clashing egos aside and talk about the closing arguments in this year’s elections: The slick, four-color mailers currently clogging mailboxes across the commonwealth.

These items are the raging ids of campaigns, jammed with garish colors, jarring headlines and wild accusations.

They also offer us a telling look at how campaigns view the voting public (hint: with dripping disdain).

Northam’s ad may be laughable, given his self-inflicted political wounds. But it’s also ephemeral. A broadcast ad intrudes on our personal space for a few seconds, and then it’s gone (assuming we haven’t either flipped the channel or hit the mute button first, never mind heading over to Netflix and avoiding ads entirely).

A mailer, however, is tangible. We have to look at it, even for a few seconds, before tossing it in the recycle bin. It’s in those few moments we come into direct contact with the holy trinity of political mail: Fear, anger, and hate. And this election season, Virginia voters have had to lay hands, almost daily, on all three.

My own mailbox, waiting for the welter of Christmas catalogues to arrive, has suffered greatly from the mailers this year. The reason? There’s the highly competitive 12th Senate District race underway between incumbent Republican Siobhan Dunnavant and Democrat Debra Rodman, the incumbent in the 73rd House District.

Rodman’s candidacy leaves the 73rd open, which means there’s a competitive race between Democrat Rodney Willett and Republican Mary Margaret Kastelberg.

Just to make the mailbox even more toxic, there’s a mildly competitive county supervisor race underway, too, and, for reasons unknown to science or politics, a Republican candidate hoping to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) in 2020 is also sending out the glossies.

What are all of these shiny, unbridled ids trying to tell me?

Let’s look at a few of the more recent examples.

First up, and one of the better examples of the campaign mail genre, is an 8.5-by-11 glossy from the Dunnavant campaign that asks: “Should your tax dollars be used to pay for sex change surgery?”

And on the reverse, unsuspecting recipients are told that Rodman “wants to require tax money to pay for gender transition surgery.”

So much for those kitchen-table issues Republicans wanted to campaign on this year.

There’s another Dunnavant slick on the pile, this one holding the Democrat to account for being “another lying liberal politician” who supports all manner of horrors, including late-term abortion, sanctuary cities, letting 16-year-olds vote and, most terrible of all, pay raises for politicians.

That’s pretty good. Pushes a lot of buttons at once — if your buttons happen to be permanently stuck on Fox News.

But even this isn’t the best in show (so far). That prize goes to a mailer for Kastelberg, which takes button-pushing to exciting new lows.

On one side, the reader is warned that, “socialist Democrats want power and the hope you won’t vote.” Just in case the headline hasn’t motivated me to go stand in line right now, there’s a collage of her opponent (Willett), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D).

But what makes this piece a winner in the sprint to the bottom? On the flip side, there’s a picture of Kastelberg with her family. Smiling people. Nice people. Under a headline that says the reader’s vote can “stop the socialist Democrats.”

That’s worthy of a chef’s kiss.

And maybe a new mailbox.