Sharing their thoughts, stories about political yard signs
Political yard signs dot the landscape during election years, but their effectiveness in helping win a race for public office is debatable. Two frequent candidates for public office shared their views and stories about yard signs during interviews with the Sun.
Former Woodford County Attorney Anthony “Tony” Wilhoit has campaigned for many offices, including two unsuccessful bids to become Kentucky Attorney General. He doesn’t view himself as an authority on the effectiveness of yard signs, but said, “We always thought they were pretty helpful.”
Former Midway Mayor Carl Rollins said unless you’re really well known and your opponent is not, it’s important to at least have as many of your signs in yards. He remembers having some fun with his opponent during one campaign. Both had about the same number of signs in yards until the Friday night before the Tuesday election. “I almost doubled the number of signs I had (in Midway). So it looked all of a sudden (like) he didn’t have many signs and I had a lot,” Rollins recalled.
Rollins said he may have been the first candidate for Midway City Council to use yard signs in 1985. “In a small town, that makes a big difference,” he said. Yard signs, he added, are probably not going to make a big difference in statewide or state congressional races. One way a yard sign can help win a campaign is if somebody respected by their neighbors has one of yours in their yard, Wilhoit said. He said that can sway a voter who doesn’t know much about either candidate, because “if that person’s for him, he must be a good guy.” Heavily traveled streets and roads are often popular places to put yard signs. Wilhoit has his doubts about how effective a sign is if it’s among a lot of others because “in a way it kind of gets lost in the mix,” he said. Two of his neighbors – one Democrat, the other Republican – have signs in their yards for all of their party’s candidates. With so many signs, he said, “You can’t tell who’s who.” Wilhoit said he wanted his signs to stand out and not look like everyone else’s if possible. Rollins did likewise.
“I wanted to make sure the name – the last name, especially – stood out,” said Rollins. He said other people in Midway have his last name, but they don’t spell Rollins like he does. So his goals when it came to designing a sign was visibility and name recognition, he said. Rollins ran successfully for state representative (four times) Midway city council in 1985 and 1987, mayor in 1989 and county magistrate (twice), and unsuccessfully for judge-executive. “I thought I’d better quit while I was ahead,” he said. Asked when he first ran for public office, Wilhoit said he lost a bid to become Versailles mayor while a graduate student at the University of Kentucky. He lost the Democratic primary to Owen Range in May 1961 by a margin of 613 votes to 537, according to election results in the Woodford County Clerk’s office. Wilhoit, who served as police judge for the City of Versailles, a public defender and many other offices, including county attorney, said he went door to door during his campaigns asking if he could place his sign in someone’s yard. “When you went around and talked to people,” he said, “you really found out what was going on in the community.” Wilhoit didn’t like interrupting people when they got home from work and were getting ready for supper. So going door to door and talking to people were his least and most favorite things about a campaign, he said. “When you run for any office,” said Rollins, “people want to see that ... you’re willing to work for it – going door to door, putting up yard signs ...” He said asking somebody to put one of your signs in their yard is hard, but not as hard as asking for a campaign contribution. “Once you get a sign in their yard, they’re probably going to vote for you. So that’s a good thing,” added Rollins, who still lives in Midway. “Same with money. If you get a donation – even if it’s five or 10 dollars – they’re probably going to vote for you.” Before Wilhoit ever ran for public office, the Versailles native said he distributed yard signs as a kid when Thomas Dewey ran unsuccessfully against President Harry S. Truman in 1948. “Of course (I was) a staunch Democrat then too,” he said laughing. Because Wilhoit now serves on the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, he’s no longer allowed to be active in politics, which “I kind of miss,” he said. Interestingly, Wilhoit, who will celebrate his 85th birthday next month, was born the same day – Nov. 5, 1935 – Albert Benjamin A. B. “Happy” Chandler Sr. was elected Kentucky governor for the first time.