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Civil campaign hard for 'Daily Show' host to believe

John Oliver, a correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," was in the region Wednesday filming a segment on the race between Andrew Maynard of Stonington and Stuart Norman of Griswold - the two candidates who ran a campaign that focused on issues, not attacks.

And the British comedian was seriously weirded-out.

In town from New York for the day, Oliver and a crew from "The Daily Show" were in Sterling and Mystic to film a segment about the race for the state's 18th Senate District, where Republican Norman and Democrat Maynard ran what they called a "civility tour."

In man-on-the-street interviews conducted in downtown Mystic, Oliver first asked passers-by what they thought of the race. As person after person said they found it a refreshing change from politics-as-usual, Oliver became more rattled.

"But was it a frightening idea to know that a Democrat and a Republican didn't behave like they hated each other?" Oliver asked one man.

"How does it feel to know that these horrifying candidates might be walking down the streets right now?" he asked another.

A story about the Maynard-Norman campaign ran in The Day just ahead of the Nov. 2 election and "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," an event held in Washington calling for elected officials and the media to avoid focusing solely on polarizing issues.

Maynard's aide, Taylor Somerville, sent the story to blogger Andrew Sullivan, who posted it to the website of The Atlantic magazine under a title that won't be repeated in this newspaper.

From there, the story went viral and caught Stewart's attention. Oliver said the segment is expected to air sometime in early December. (The show is off the air next week for Thanksgiving.)

"We're always on the lookout for good stories, and this was something that just appealed to Jon," Oliver said, speaking out of character.

Both candidates said they were initially gun-shy about appearing on the show, but agreed when they were assured that the segment wouldn't make candidates trying to run respectful campaigns look overly silly.

"We had a good, thoughtful discussion," said Maynard, the race's victor, who was interviewed alongside Norman for about three hours at Sterling's Ekonk Grange. "But it is 'The Daily Show,' so we'll see what they do with it. I think Stuart and I were happy we caught the attention of a national thought-maker like Jon Stewart."

Oliver's interview treated the Maynard-Norman race as something alien, comparing the two to E.T. After the indoor interview, the crew shot footage of Norman, Maynard and Oliver frolicking in the Sterling forest and riding child-sized bicycles.

"It's a spoof," Somerville said. "The gist of the segment is they can't believe it's real."

In addition to the two candidates and several local residents, "The Daily Show" interviewed a psychology professor and a Day reporter, who helped provide details on why campaigns tend to focus on negative issues and details of the race between Maynard and Norman.

Norman said he was happy the campaign is receiving national attention, albeit in a less-than-serious venue. He said he hopes campaigns like his and Maynard's become more normal and less newsworthy. "But it takes two people to have a campaign like that," he said.

"One of the things Andy and I talked about was that anyone that voted for me wasn't going to hate Andy, and vice versa," Norman said. "And that's how it should be."

Although "The Daily Show" did not seek to lampoon the race and mock both candidates, Oliver and the crew kept tongue firmly in cheek throughout the day.

When asked by Oliver to name another political figure who behaved in a civilized, respectful manner, Hervie Lamb of Stonington came up with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

"Now can you name someone who wasn't assassinated?" Oliver responded.

Apparently stumped, Lamb was silent for a moment. "No, that's all I've got," he said.

"Then I think we're done here," Oliver said.


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