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“Negative” Campaigning

I started to write a post about negative campaigning this morning because of an article I saw in the LA Times (more on this in a minute). I decided not to, but this post (and the subsequent comment) at The post concerns a “negative” ad in the race for NC-13. The incumbent has supported a bunch of GLBT and sex related studies through the NIH, while opposing body armor for our troops. The comment says it’s not really negative to highlight such votes.

That brings me to the LA Times piece.

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 ‚Äî including an FBI investigation and jail time ‚Äî the somber narrator asks, “Where does Casey hold his campaign meetings?”

The camera pulls back to show the cigar-smoking “campaign team” ‚Äî 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.

In the case of Liz’s post, I agree with her commenter – that isn’t a negative ad. In the case of the Santorum spot, I’d probably say the same. The LA Times seems to disagree. They describe the anti-Casey ad as a “graphic, personal attack on the candidate”.

Is pointing out a campaign’s financial ties to convicted or alleged criminals a “negative, personal” attack? I don’t believe it is.

I posted last week asking if campaigns were responsible for every nut job that supports their campaign. In further discussions with friends, someone suggested that there is a distinct difference between a wacko that endorses you (even one that posts their endorsement to a website) and a campaign accepting a contribution from that same wacko.

If your supporters are racist, and they say they’re voting for you, the campaign has no control over that. If Osama bin Laden released a video supporting your campaign, you would have no responsibility for it (though it would likely kill your campaign).

If you accept money from people, and there is a pattern of corruption amongst those people, that’s fair game – especially if you don’t immediately return it.

But this leaves me with the question “What is a Negative Ad?”

Written by Michael Turk