U.S. election ads turn personal — and brutal

* Ads become more personal in a sometimes angry campaign

* Democrats lead shift toward personal focus to attacks

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Oct 28 (BestGrowthStock) – It’s nasty out there, with
U.S. political candidates and outside groups flooding the
airwaves with brutal and increasingly personal attacks calling
their opponents cheats, liars and kooks — or worse.

Negative campaigning is a time-honored tradition, but the
sheer volume and personal focus of the ads before Tuesday’s
elections, fueled by record-breaking spending and a polarized
political climate, has made the deluge seem heavier.

In Illinois, an ad details a Democrat’s “shady mob ties.” A
West Virginia Republican “puts his profits before our people.”
An Arizona Republican is a “slumlord” who preys on foreclosed
homeowners.

Democrats implied a South Dakota Republican’s repeated
traffic violations made her a threat to children. “Next time
you send your kids to school, prepare them,” the ad warns over
footage of children at a school crosswalk.

“It’s more brutal than ever,” said Democratic consultant
Dane Strother. “There is more money in the system than ever
before, and the ads are more negative and more intense and more
constant than ever before.”

The barrage of negative ads will reach a climax in the next
few days, before an election on Tuesday that is expected to
give Republicans control of the House of Representatives and
perhaps even the Senate.

The sour voter mood that marked the 2010 election has been
reflected in its campaign ads, with Democrats leading the shift
toward more personalized attacks.

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Fighting to save their majorities, Democrats turned more
often to personal attacks to discredit their rival and try to
keep the election from focusing on President Barack Obama and
unpopular policies like healthcare reform, analysts said.

“Democrats have an interest this year in going after
personal characteristics — in part to draw attention away from
the unfavorable issue environment,” said Erika Franklin Fowler
of Wesleyan University, co-director of the Wesleyan Media
Project that tracks political advertising trends.

GETTING PERSONAL

One of every five Democratic attack ads in this cycle has
focused on the personal characteristics of Republicans, up from
12 percent in 2008, the Wesleyan study found, while Republicans
have more often focused their negative ads on policy issues.

Both parties are frequent users of the negative attack,
however, which dates back more than two centuries to when the
founding fathers traded allegations about their mistresses or
children born out of wedlock.

The modern-day version is only slightly more civil. Teams
of researchers in both parties comb through transcripts, tax
records, business deals and court documents for a kernel of
information they can spin into an attack.

“He was dishonest when he sold us a car, I’m sure he’d be
dishonest in Congress,” an Ohio voter tells the camera in an ad
blitz against Republican House candidate Tom Ganley that
focused on complaints and lawsuits against his car dealership.

“He’s just too dangerous,” a Colorado voter says in a
Democratic ad about Republican Senate candidate and Tea Party
favorite Ken Buck. “Buck said he’d tear up the Constitution,”
another voter says.

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid’s fierce re-election
fight in Nevada against another Tea Party Republican, Sharron
Angle, produced a blizzard of negative ads. “Sharron Angle says
the unemployed are spoiled,” a Democratic ad said.

Angle said Reid was out of touch and “living large” in
Washington’s Ritz-Carlton. Reid, another Angle ad says, is “the
best friend an illegal alien ever had.”

Sometimes humor is used to get across the message. In
Louisiana, supporters of a Democratic Senate candidate are
portrayed as greeting shadowy illegal immigrants who cross the
border through a hole in a fence with a “welcome” sign, a
marching band and a chauffeured limousine ride.

Candidates walk a fine line with the most hard-hitting ads,
which fire up partisans but can turn off independents.
Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway has seen a sharp drop
in support in Kentucky after raising doubts about Republican
rival Rand Paul’s religious faith.

The ad raised allegations about Paul’s activity at Baylor
University in a student group that questioned the Bible, mocked
Christianity and worshiped a false god named “Aqua Buddha.”

“Candidates who are behind at the end reach — and
sometimes they overreach,” Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill
of Missouri said of Conway’s ad on MSNBC.

Academics disagree on the effectiveness of negative
advertising, but political operatives say they work.

“The day negative ads no longer work we’ll quit running
them,” Strother said. “We expect our opponents will explain our
foibles and hiccups, and we’re going to do the same to them.”
(Editing by Vicki Allen)

U.S. election ads turn personal — and brutal