Could negative ads backfire on the Democrats?

Desperate politicians who can’t defend their own record invariably turn to the old standby of negative ads, and this year’s crop of endangered Senate Democrats is no different.

With less than two months to go until Election Day, Obama’s Democratic supporters are up against the harsh reality of the public “losing faith” in the president, with a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finding "54% of those polled saying they no longer feel the president 'is able to lead the country and get the job done[.]'”

John Fund at National Review describes the Democrat reaction to predictions that the Republicans will get 51 Senate seats, with red-state Democrats especially vulnerable:

… the result is that Democrats will run even more desperately negative campaigns in an effort to hold onto power. But don’t expect too much media thumb-sucking about “attack ads” this fall, since the worst are almost certain to come from the left.

Fund begins with the “below the belt” attack by Alaska incumbent Democrat Mark Begich against his Republican opponent, which ad Begich was forced to withdraw.

And then there is Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor blaming his opponent, Representative Tom Cotton, for the Ebola outbreak in Africa.  Fund quotes a Cotton campaign spokesman:

Senator Pryor’s desperation is comical…In Senator Pryor’s world, he doesn’t have to take responsibility for rubber-stamping the Obama agenda over 90 percent of the time, but wants Arkansans to believe Tom Cotton is responsible for everything from Ebola to crabgrass and male pattern baldness.

Cotton himself said he expects more “low, dishonest and vulgar” ads.  Iowa Republican candidate Joni Ernst (who earlier this year ran my favorite political ad of the year) said, “It all smacks of desperation.”

What is especially comical is Democratic senators earlier this week grandstanding about the need to amend the Constitution to cut out free political speech by their opponents.  Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, says of negative ads from Republicans:

This Congress forgets what the people really care about…They don’t want to see these ads. They don’t want to see this outside money.

Not to be outdone, fellow Minnesota Senator Al Franken adds:

“These negative, poisonous, untruthful ads have just proliferated,” echoed Sen. Al Franken, and the American people “know this is wrong.”

While Democrats attempt on the one hand to stifle Republican speech, Mr. Fund observes that “Democrats can’t seem to stop running cookie-cutter anti-Koch ads in state after state.”  Fund further observes that the anti-Koch ads may well backfire on Democrats, quoting an observer of past campaigns (emphasis in original):

When you’re reduced to attacking your opponent’s supporters, you show the lack of a positive agenda and an obsession with the process of campaigns that voters don’t have. You’re wasting your air time.

With Republicans taking a “do no harm” approach, Democrats are growing ever more desperate.  As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake said of Senator Pryor’s Ebola ad, “when it comes to him and other red-state Democrats fighting to keep their jobs this fall, expect more like it.”

So pull up a chair and watch the next seven weeks of political elbowing unfold.

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