Political Ads Reflect High Stakes Races

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Democratic candidate Bill Durston may be an underdog, but his bark is getting some attention. His campaign cites internal polling that shows the challenger in a statistical dead heat with Republican Congressman Dan Lungren. Lungren’s campaign has put out its own polling data showing the incumbent with a 20-point lead. Either way, it’s enough to have David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report keeping a close eye on the race from Washington. 

"For Republicans, this would be a deep psychological blow to the party. … Especially in a District like Dan Lungren’s that is 7 points more Republican than the national average, it would be hard for Republicans to lose this, for sure"

Democrats are poised to pick up as many as two dozen House seats in this election. California’s 3rd District wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Lungren may not have planned on engaging his opponent in this race; but now, says Wasserman, he has to. The shift began with an attack ad featuring grainy video of the Congressman in bathing trunks at a resort.

"It’s troubling for an incumbent when there’s topless footage of you…saying a lot of business gets done by the pool."

That now-infamous ad has been called out for playing fast and loose with the facts.

TV AD Narrator: ABC News caught Lungren red-handed breaking House ethics rules on a luxury vacation – paid for by special interests… (fade under)

The Sacramento Bee has reported that Lungren did take full advantage of existing loopholes… but his visit to the resort as depicted in the ad did not actually “break” House ethics rules.
Most people claim to regard negative campaigning as a turn-off. So why do candidates so often choose to go this route? Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center in Washington has heard this question before. 

" As much as people say they don’t like it, they remember it. It’s something that sticks. And they might not be happy about it, they might say, I wish we didn’t have these kind of ads, but much of the research shows that kind of campaigning, those kind of images/messages do resonate with the public"

For now, Lungren is running an ad that doesn’t even mention Durston.

TV AD Lungren: “I was one of the few who stood up to the leaders of both political parties when they voted to reduce financial controls on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...”

Lungren’s campaign has taken a more negative tone in direct mail. He accuses the Democrat of opposing funding for U-S troops in Iraq…

In the 4th District, Republican John Doolittle won't be returning to Congress. It's a tough fight for his seat between veteran state legislator Tom McClintock, running in this heavily Republican district, and Democrat Charlie Brown.

TV AD: This is beautiful Roseville, CA. [F/X sproing] State senator Tom McClintock is running for Congress here. But he lives 412 miles away in Thousand Oaks. [F/X sproing] … (fade under) :12

While Brown portrays the Republican as a Southern California carpet-bagger, McClintock offers this:

TV AD: “Charlie Brown stood with anti-war radicals when a soldier was hung in effigy. That’s no way to support our troops…”:11

Brown’s campaign responded by saying that the ads mischaracterize the event and Brown’s role.
The tendency to stretch the truth in campaign ads is nothing new. What IS new, says Amy Mitchell, is the effect that ‘truth-squads’ have had on voters. 

" And the public now is looking, is watching for those truth assessments… more and more people, when they see an ad, say “huh - I wonder if that’s true?” :13

Overall spending on TV ads is down this year. But analysts predict a late-inning surge, aimed squarely at the tightest and most winnable seats. Which means: Northern California T-V viewers can expect to see a lot more campaign ads in the coming weeks.