"Everything you are seeing on TV is a shameful lie."
That statement didn't come from an ad-weary voter, but it certainly could have.
It's actually a quote from GOP state Sen. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.
The reason for Mulvaney's disgust? Democrats recently aired an ad showing police booking an elderly woman into jail, as a narrator warns seniors that Mulvaney may take away their Social Security.
Mulvaney, running for Congress against Democratic Rep. John Spratt, called the 30-second spot "one of the most offensive and frightening ads I think I've ever seen."
As bad as it is, that ad may not even be the worst of this season's dirty campaign advertising tricks.
Just ask Ben Kalasho, who's running for city council in Santee, Calif., northeast of San Diego. One morning he got a call from a voter asking why he was putting up campaign posters in Arabic.
According to the local CBS affiliate, someone printed up signs calling Kalasho "The Arab Leader Santee Needs." To drive the attack home the sign displayed some Arabic characters.
"The funny thing," Kalasho said when he learned of the mysterious signs, "is I'm Polish."
Those are just a few examples of the extraordinarily negative tone that political campaigns are striking this year.
Faced with an angry electorate and a poisonous anti-incumbent zeitgeist, many Democratic incumbents feel they have no choice but to launch personal attacks against their opponents.
While Republicans have been taking aim at Democrats voting record, including their backing a $787 billion stimulus that failed to produce the promised jobs and a $500 billion cut to Medicare for Seniors, Democrats have gotten mean with ad hominem attacks.
In Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Ron Klein is airing a flurry of commercials saying conservative Republican challenger Allen West didn’t pay his credit card bills and has close ties to a motorcycle gang. West has denied the charges about the motorcycle gang but admitted he did not pay some credit card bills on time. His excuse? He was serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and his family back home was stretched, he says.
In Staten Island, New York Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon is bombarding airwaves with ads saying his Republican challenger, Michael Grimm, lost money speculating in real estate and operated a failed restaurant.
It's a political game played from both sides of the aisle in every election, of course. But there are indications the midterm election of 2010 is emerging as one of the dirtiest races ever with most of the mud flying from Democratic ramparts.
"We always say this is the most negative cycle," Evan Tracey, an analyst who tracks campaign ads for the Northern Virginia-based Campaign Media Analysis Group, tells The Washington Post. "But 2010 probably will be it. The national issues are huge, and both parties hold the view that you have to blow up your opponent."
The Wesleyan Media Project tracked nearly 900,000 advertisements from January through October. Its conclusions: 20 percent of this year's ads attack the personal characteristics of their opponents. That's up from 14 percent in the 2008 campaign, they report.
"The Democrats are wary of trying to brag about anything, given the bad mood and the recession," said Eugene Kiely, an official with the FactCheck.org watchdog. "So they have done relatively few positive ads.
"It's been attack from the beginning," he told The Huffington Post.
This cycle, it's no longer just the candidates being targeted with negative advertising, either. In July, Target donated $150,000 to a pro-business organization that gives money to pro-business politicians, both Democrats and Republicans.
MoveOn, which is partially funded by leftist billionaire George Soros, struck back at Target with an ad of its own that stated: "Target and other big corporations are trying to buy our elections." It called for a boycott against Target, stating, "Our democracy is not for sale." Fox News host Bill O'Reilly called the MoveOn attack ad "dirty, dishonest and disgusting."
Among this year's more notable examples:
- Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin didn't even wait for GOP opponent Ron Johnson to win the primary. Seven weeks before Johnson officially became his opponent, Feingold aired an ad claiming Johnson would "hand over the Great Lakes to the oil companies." It showed a U.S. map, with an oil slick ominously spreading from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan.
- Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, mocking the conservative Christian beliefs of GOP challenger Dan Webster, has been calling him "Taliban Dan" on the campaign trail. Even the liberal St. Petersburg Times, calling it a “despicable” campaign tactic, said “Grayson owes Webster and his constituents an apology."
- Desperate to remain her job as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi took aim at GOP rival Rep. John Boehner after he unveiled the Republican Pledge to America platform, posting a clip of him stating: "And the point we make in this preamble to our Pledge is that we're not going to be any different than we've been." Pelosi cited it as proof that "Congressional Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that cost us 8 million American jobs, doubled our national debt, hurt millions of Americans, and wrecked our economy." The Politifact organization called Pelosi's post a "gross mischaracterization" — Boehner clearly was referring to social issues rather than the economic policies Pelosi suggested.
- The Democratic National Committee produced an ad slamming the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It showed a thief mugging a woman in a parking garage. "They're stealing our democracy, spending millions from secret donors to elect Republicans to do their bidding in Congress," the ad stated. "It appears they've even taken secret foreign money to influence our elections." The New York Times stated flatly: "Democrats have offered no evidence that the Chamber is using foreign money to influence the elections."
- President Obama attacked the Chamber as well, telling voters "groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won't tell you where the money for their ads come from." The Chamber explained its accounting procedures keep foreign and domestic contributions separate. When CBS host Bob Schieffer asked White House senior adviser David Axelrod for evidence, Axelrod shot back: "Well, do you have any evidence it's not [true] Bob?" Schieffer's bemused response: "Is that the best you can do?"
- In Kentucky, Democrat Jack Conway infuriated conservative Rand Paul by charging Paul worshipped a false idol called "Aqua Buddha," and belonged to an anti-Christian group, while attending Baylor University. The charge was based on an anonymous source, who told GQ magazine that Paul was involved in a college prank 30 years ago. Paul refused to shake Conway's hand after an Oct. 17 debate, saying his opponent had called his faith into question.
- The Obama administration widely attacked Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie for the activities of the independent groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. This despite the fact that Rove and Gillespie have no control over the groups, and only act as informal, unpaid advisers. It appears the strategy backfired: Some $13 million have flooded into the groups' coffers since the presidential broadsides began.
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has done everything but suggest that GOP challenger Sharron Angle wears a tinfoil cap to block alien transmissions. Immediately after Angle won the GOP primary, a Reid ad claimed she supported a Church of Scientology rehabilitation program for women prisoners. FactCheck.org has reported Angle never introduced that legislation, however. Reid's tactic appeared to flop with many voters after Angle handled herself well in a debate, telling him to "man up" and face the looming Social Security crisis head on.
- California’s gubernatorial race has been one of the nastiest in the nation. Supporters of Democrat Jerry Brown did some dirt digging on Republican Meg Whitman, locating her former housekeeper. The investigators got the housekeeper to admit she was an undocumented worker employed by Whitman and at a teary eyed press conference claimed that Whitman has bullied her. To add icing on the cake, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred went after Whitman, representing the former domestic.
- Meanwhile, someone in Brown's campaign was recorded calling former eBay CEO Whitman, a "whore." Whitman's spokesman called it "an appalling and unforgivable smear.” In their subsequent debate, Brown apologized awkwardly, while disagreeing that being called a "whore" is as offensive to women as use of the "N-word" is to African-Americans.
- In Florida's House District 22 race, the state Democratic Party distributed thousands of mailers featuring a copy of an old tax lien Republican Allen West had paid off. But the campaign piece displayed West's Social Security number, forcing West to purchase identity-theft protection for himself and his family. A Democratic spokesman issued a backhanded apology, telling The Palm Beach Post: “In order to stop the crazy West accusations, we will pay for identify-theft monitoring for the next two years.” West refused that offer, and rolled out an ad calling Democratic opponent Ron Klein a “desperate politician," adding, "It makes you wonder what else Klein will do to me, or to you.”
- It seems political dirty tricks have gone high-tech this year. A hacker recently brought down the grass-roots FreedomWorks' site for two hours, just as a major fundraiser with Fox News host Glenn Beck got under way. FreedomWorks officials blasted the denial-of-service attack as a "criminal act," and estimated it cost the group over $40,000 in donations. Publicity over the attack helped FreedomWorks make up lost ground, however. Within 48 hours of the attack it had raised $161,000 of the $200,000 it needs to mount a final grass-roots push in the closing days of the campaign.
- The worst-ad award may go to a group called Latinos for Reform. It targets Hispanics in Nevada, complaining of Democrats' broken promises. But the ad urges Hispanics in both English and Spanish to stay home on Election Day. "Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message: You can no longer take us for granted. Don't vote." Hispanic organizations are blasting the ad as a blatant attempt at voter suppression.
Of course, rough-and-tumble rhetoric is nothing new to American politics.
Thomas Jefferson once paid a writer to imply John Adams was a hermaphrodite. Davy Crockett accused Martin Van Buren of wearing women’s underwear, writing he was "laced up in corsets such as women in town wear." And James Buchanan, who suffered from a congenital palsy that made his head tilt to the left, endured opponents accusations that he had tried to hang himself.
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