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Getting ugly: Negative ad campaigns are rolling out

POSTED: July 15, 2010 12:09 a.m.

It seems candidates have decided the time for pleasantries is over.

In the week before the July 20 primary election, hopefuls in a number of races are rolling out attack ads in an effort to undermine their opponents.

Audrey Haynes, associate professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said negative campaigning is expected in the final days before an election.

“If you’re a candidate and you’ve said all your positives — if you’ve laid out all your policy goals, if you’ve talked about your history and your experience and your numbers haven’t moved — you’re still in second or third place; what is there left for you to do except try to chisel away from the numbers your opponent has who’s in the lead?” Haynes said.

Candidates tend to attack those they feel most threatened by.

“Of course if you are the leading candidate ... you have no incentive to attack,” Haynes said. “Rarely do you see the incumbent or the leading member of the field attacking anybody unless they get attacked, and then they have to respond and in the response there may be an attack.”

Tom Crawford, the editor of The Georgia Report, said a recently released ad from John Oxendine attacking Karen Handel’s is an example of a frontrunner using an attack ad to stave off competition.

“To me that’s an indication that she’s been making some headway in the polls and that Oxendine sees her as the biggest threat to him going into next Tuesday’s race,” Crawford said.

Deal, who has been ranked closely with Handel in polls, also recently aired an attack ad against Handel.

Crawford said the race to be the next attorney general has been dominated by negative campaign commercials, including one that features the mother of a shooting victim in a controversial case in which one of the candidates was a special prosecutor.

“In the race for attorney general on the Democratic side between Ken Hodges and Rob Teilhet, there have been some very, very hard hitting negative ads that both of them have run,” Crawford said. “That has impressed me as a very nasty race.”

But Crawford said overall, this election season hasn’t been as negative as those in the past, due in most part to empty pockets.

“All the candidates had trouble raising money,” Crawford said. “If you can’t buy the TV time, obviously you can’t put an attack ad up. A lot of people hung on to their money so they could run ads in the last week or two before primary day.”

Haynes said that people often think of negative campaigns in a bad light, but she pointed out that they can be good for voters.

“You want someone to criticize somebody if they’ve done things that are unethical,” Haynes said.

And as long as candidates play by the rules, evidence shows that negative campaigning can be effective.

“It has to be an attack that has some teeth, it can’t be viewed as an attack that’s below the belt and it has to be heard,” Haynes said. “There have always been negative attacks. It’s completely normal.”



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