Down East 2013 ©
Now’s the time in an election when you often see an increase in negative ads. That’s partly because now is the time when candidates in close races and their supporters get desperate and partly because it’s more difficult to respond to a negative ad this late in the election, making them a bit more effective.
You see these kinds of negative ads mostly from outside groups, who don’t have to worry as much as campaigns do about driving up their own negatives by going on the attack.
That’s not to say that all ads that describe a candidate’s position or records in a negative way are bad or misleading or harmful to democracy. Ads that contrast positions between candidates or reveal important information about candidates’ records and policies can be helpful to voters and an important part of the debate. It’s often a fine line, however, and the overwhelming practice of using attack ads to twist facts and mislead voters has made all contrast advertising the subject of public scorn.
Maine is usually a place where negative advertising is less prevalent. But that hasn’t seemed to be the case this year.
The ads that have been reported on the most lately are those by the state parties and independent groups targeting independent candidate Eliot Cutler and which began when a poll showed Cutler with increased support. While the major party candidates have been weathering similar attacks since very early in the election, these are the first real attacks against Cutler and it will be interesting to see how they affect the public’s perception of his candidacy. He has, at the same time, also received the endorsements of most of the state’s major newspapers.
We’re also seeing an unprecedented amount of spending in some state Senate races. Most recently, an out-of-state PAC called the Republican State Leadership Committee has spent almost $400,000 in five key senate races, mostly in attacks on Democrats. In Senate District 24, for instance, the group spent $81,000 at once, dwarfing the combined $39,000 spent by the candidates themselves, according to the Kennebec Journal .
According to a complaint filed by the Maine Democratic Party, the PAC delayed reporting these expenditures until days after they were actually made, giving Democratic candidates who are running Clean Elections campaigns little time to respond.
My favorite response to all the negativity has come from Democratic candidate Andrew O’Brien, who is running for re-election to the State House in District 44 (Islesboro, Lincolnville, Hope, Appleton, Searsmont, Liberty, and Morrill). He has maintained a relentlessly positive campaign and has even been posting the negative mailers his constituents have received to his blog  and his facebook page where he ridicules and rebuts them.
He’s also sending out this mailer (complete with caricature of Tony Payne) to combat the attacks: