November 04, 2002 11:00 pm

It's election day. Is anybody sorry, regardless of who wins and who loses, to see the campaign season come to an end? Campaigning has reached an all-time low in terms of negativity, and for the first time it reached down to the local level here in Union County. We should all be glad it's over.

NEGATIVE ADVERTISING — pointing out your opponent's alleged faults rather than your own strengths — is a primary culprit in Americans' declining interest in politics and in lower voter turnout. Americans get disgusted at the onslaught of political advertising in the two months that precede an election. That more than half the ads that run on TV are negative is a further turnoff. By the time election day rolls around, people are just plain sick of politics and politicians. Both parties are at fault.

Voters are seeing negative advertising in more and more races. Although what we see in Oregon is fairly tame compared to campaigns in other states, we're not exempt. Even Sen. Gordon Smith, whose war chest easily tripled that of his opponent and who has held a substantial lead in the polls for several weeks, didn't hesitate in going negative. Smith saturated the airwaves, splitting time between telling what he's done well with exaggerating the supposed evils of Bill Bradbury's record. All Bradbury could do to fight back was strike at Smith's lack of support for Oregon's assisted suicide law and opposition to abortion rights.

IN THE GOVERNOR'S RACE, Kevin Mannix fired the first shot at Ted Kulongoski, who eventually responded with his own negative blitz against Mannix. Then in the closing days of the campaign Mannix mounted an effort to paint Kulongoski as soft on crime.

Locally, the county commission race turned negative in the final week as John Lamoreau ran ads that painted an incomplete picture of an endorsement squabble and another that tried to raise citizens' fear factor because they are on the hook for "millions in new debt.'' Union County citizens don't need that kind of misinformation in their campaigns, no matter how desperate candidates become.

About the only thing negative campaigning does is shed light on candidates' true personalities. Those who allow their campaign marketing people to stretch truths and exaggerate records probably aren't the kind of folks who ought to be trusted. If Americans could get that point across in the way they vote, perhaps we'd see more civilized campaigns emerge. Until that happens, the kind of garbage we were exposed to this year will continue to prevail at election time.

THANKS GOODNESS the campaign season is over. Let's hope the best people — not the most negative campaigns — prove to be the winners.