Those damn Republicans are up to their old tricks again, with their awful negative ads. Luckily, the L.A. Times is there to tell us about it, at length — and to emphasize that attack ads are almost entirely a Republican phenomenon . . . except, of course, when beleaguered Democrats have no choice but to fight back.
The story is titled Negative Ads a Positive in GOP Strategy, with a deck headline that reads “Hoping to deflect attention from Iraq, candidates unleash personal attacks. They get voters’ attention, consultants say.” It opens:
WASHINGTON — Sinister characters are scheming in a smoke-filled room, in a television ad that depicts big campaign contributors to Bob Casey, a Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania.
After detailing the legal troubles that each donor faces — including an FBI investigation and jail time — the somber narrator asks, “Where does Casey hold his campaign meetings?”
The camera pulls back to show the cigar-smoking “campaign team” — behind bars.
That graphic, personal attack on the candidate challenging Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is a particularly sharp-edged example of a key strategy in the Republican political arsenal as the party fights to keep control of Congress: going negative and personal, early and often.
Those damn Republicans.
And now the infamous “some critics” have their say:
While President Bush and national GOP leaders are attacking Democrats on such big issues as national security and America’s role in the world, individual Republicans are hitting their opponents hard — below the belt, some critics say — on personal and local issues.
So Democrats don’t do this as well, huh?
Oh, wait: apparently they do, as we finally learn in a whisper — one that is oh so very soft and fleeting — in the sixth paragraph:
Negative campaigning is hardly new, and Democrats are dishing dirt against Republicans too.
Oh really? Well, let’s talk about that, then. No, let’s don’t . . . let’s immediately return to the theory that it’s purely a Republican strategy:
But mudslinging is crucial to the Republican plan for this year’s midterm elections, because the party’s hold on power will probably hinge on shifting attention from the unpopular war in Iraq and other national issues that cut against them.
Wow. It actually says “mudslinging is crucial to the Republican plan for this year’s midterm elections.”
(This piece is labeled “Washington Extra.” It’s apparently not in the op-ed section, and is not labeled “News Analysis.” Maybe it’s a column of some sort; perhaps a reader can fill me in on that.)
The story tries to substantiate this by pointing to a recent “strategy memo” by a Republican congressman. It then quotes a Republican political spokesman:
“You haven’t seen the majority of the negative ads yet,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, where a staff of 10 has been deployed on opposition research.
I bet if you were to ask Forti about that quote, he’d tell you that he meant the negative ads coming from both sides — but the story makes it sound as though he’s talking only about ads coming from Republicans. If I can track him down, I’ll ask him.
The next seven paragraphs or so feature numerous examples of negative ads by Republicans. Well, gee. I guess if the negative ads they can find are all by Republicans, maybe the paper has a point.
Oh, wait! It turns out that Democrats do them too . . . but they are summed up in a couple of quick paragraphs, and are characterized as the Democrats simply “fighting back,” “responding,” and “countering” those awful GOP attacks:
Madrid may have cut her losses by quickly fighting back with an ad not only defending herself but linking Wilson to resigned House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
It remains to be seen whether the GOP barrage will do lasting damage, especially since Madrid and other Democrats have made a concerted effort to respond aggressively. Ellsworth countered with an ad attacking Hostettler’s record on crime; Donnelly pointed out that Chocola was also once late in paying taxes; Murphy aired an ad challenging Gerlach’s claim to be independent of Bush.
After that, it’s quickly back to reinforcing that this is a uniquely Republican strategy:
That underscores why attack ads may be particularly important to Republicans’ strategy: Many polls show that Democrats are generally more motivated than Republicans to vote this fall.
I’ll keep my eyes open to see if this attack ad thing is really a purely Republican phenomenon. So far this campaign season, about the only attack ad I’ve seen is one attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger for his support for the unpopular George W. Bush. I’m sure I’m just not paying attention.
UPDATE: From the unlikely source of the New York Times comes evidence that both sides play the negative ads game. Shocking news, that.