Ads get ugly as US election day draws near

By David Usborne

An ad that backs the tightening of abortion law depicts Barack Obama as the Angel of Death. Photo / Supplied
An ad that backs the tightening of abortion law depicts Barack Obama as the Angel of Death. Photo / Supplied

With two weeks until mid-term elections that threaten to leave the Democrats battered and deprived of their House of Representatives majority, voters are yearning for the return of TV ads about cars and cat food.

That's because the blizzard of political spots they are seeing is arguably the most consistently nasty ever.

It seems especially relentless in this election year because of recent relaxation by the United States Supreme Court of funding rules, giving corporations free rein to donate money to issue advocacy groups - and to do so anonymously. With that money those groups can run ads favouring one or another candidate in races.

A record US$3 billion ($4 billion) will have been spent on advertising by candidates and outside organisations by the time voters enter the booths on November 3. By a 5 to 1 ratio, such sources have been funding spots that favour Republicans over Democrats.

A stand-out among negative ads comes courtesy of a group called Personhood USA.

Running in Colorado to support a ballot initiative to tighten abortion laws in the state, it likens President Barack Obama to the Angel of Death. A billboard in the same state shows Obama in four guises at once: a gangster, homosexual, terrorist and Mexican immigrant. No one has owned up to it, however.

While a study by the Wesleyan Media Project says the proportion of negative vs positive advertisements in this campaign is roughly similar to what happened in 2008, more of the negative attacks have a personal slant.

Michael Franz, a co-director at the Wesleyan project, said 14 per cent of attack ads in 2008 were "focused solely on the personal characteristics of the candidate's opponent. That number has jumped to 20 per cent this year".

"This trend is suggestive of more anger in political advertising."

Candidates are often forced to defend themselves, though not always with another negative spot. In Delaware, the Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell was forced to run ads responding to old clips of her suggesting an interest in witchcraft. "I am not a witch."

Yesterday, she astonished the audience at a debate with the Democrat Chris Coons when she expressed surprise that the Constitution requires separation of church and state. "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?" she asked.

In Nevada, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader who is in a tight race against another Tea Party candidate, has been accused in ads of being the "best friend" of illegal immigrants.

A Republican campaign ad urging Latinos not to vote was pulled from the airwaves amid an outcry from Democrats that it was a dirty trick.

In Illinois, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Brady has been branded a "puppy killer", while in Kentucky the libertarian Senate candidate Rand Paul is striking back at ads that suggested he "mocked Christianity".

"In part it just reflects the volatility and anger and ... disgust of the electorate," said New York-based Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein. "They have nothing left," he added, noting that the national mood towards both parties on Capitol Hill is as sour as ever.

Obama has tried to use the issue of confidential donations to campaign groups as an issue to drive Democrat turnout. "They don't have the courage to stand up and disclose their identities. They could be insurance companies or Wall St banks or even foreign-owned corporations," he said.

Two groups that have surfaced as wielding significant influence have included Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads. Both espouse conservative agendas and both have the former George Bush adviser Karl Rove as a top backer.


The Taleban connection: Alan Grayson, a Democrat incumbent in Florida, wants voters to know that his Republican challenger, Dan Webster, has extreme views on religion and women's rights. The clip claims he opposes abortion for victims of rape. The tagline? "Taleban Dan Webster".

The Angel of Death: This grotesque spot urges voters in Colorado to support a ballot initiative to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. After running through the "villains" who have loosened the law, the ad finally brings us to the Angel of Death, which morphs into President Barack Obama.

The revenge of Dorothy: The little girl from Kansas faces awful peril in this camp rehash of The Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West appears to be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. John Dennis, her Republican challenger in San Francisco, slays the witch. The spot is so terribly acted and produced, it's hilariously memorable.

The anti-Christian: Tea Party darling Rand Paul was seriously upset when his opponent in Kentucky, Jack Conway, ran this spot accusing him of belonging to a "secret society" that "mocked Christianity" and called the Bible "a hoax". He refused to shake Conway's hand at a debate and ran an ad accusing him of "gutter politics".

The cleansing process: Occasionally a sense of humour surfaces. Want to wash off the venom and bile of 2010? Join John Hickenlooper, who wants to be the next Governor of Colorado - in the tub. "Every time I see [a negative ad], I want to take a shower."

The puppy killer: Everyone loves animals - except, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn wants you to know, his challenger Bill Brady. Quinn aired a spot accusing Brady of being a puppy killer because he had backed new laws allowing for canine euthanasia. It's filled with sad looking pooches and a gruesome soundtrack.

The non-witch: Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell had to strike back, and fast, thanks to old clips of her admitting to having mixed in her youth with friends who were witches. "I'm not a witch. I'm not what you've heard," she says. "I'm you." The voters may disagree.

- Independent, AP

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