The gloves are off, attack ads are on in race for Senate

October 05, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD

There's nothing like a bitter political campaign and daily attack ads on TV to restore your faith in humanity, is there?

Why, a candidate can't even go on the air and hold up a dog and profess his love for puppies anymore.

No, as soon as he does, his opponent comes out with an attack ad.

"What does Candidate A have against cats?" the ad might say. "Do we really want a cat-hater in the U.S. Senate? Vote for Candidate B. He loves all domestic animals."

So now Candidate A feels he has to respond in kind.

"They called me a cat-hater!" he fumes to his campaign staff. "Everyone knows I've done more for cats' rights than anyone in the country! We have to go after them on this!"

Pretty soon Candidate A comes out with his own attack ad.

"What is Candidate B hiding?" it begins. "He says he loves domestic animals. But last year, he voted against the Up with Livestock bill. He voted against the Empowerment for Farm Animals Act. He voted for mandatory corralling of even our smallest ponies and calves.

"Isn't it time we had someone in the Senate who means what he says? Vote for Candidate A. Because all God's creatures deserve a fair shake."

Oh, yeah, these attack ads can get pretty brutal.

Which brings us to the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin and Republican Michael S. Steele.

According to a number of political observers, the Cardin-Steele race features some of the nastiest -- and most effective -- attack ads you'll ever see.

It was Steele, after all, who held up a cute little Boston terrier in one of his campaign commercials and told voters the Democrats would soon be attacking him.

Why, he said, they might even rip him for hating puppies.

"For the record," he concluded, looking earnestly into the camera, "I like puppies."

The ad was an instant hit.

Using the dog was a stroke of genius. It was clever; it was funny; it made Steele look like a regular guy.

And look, the ad seemed to suggest, those big, bad Democrats are still going to beat up on me!

Well, he got that right.

In fact, the Democrats pulled out tire irons and really worked him over.

Because the Democrats came back with an attack ad that was almost as clever -- in its own way -- as the Steele puppy commercial.

"It's nice that Michael Steele likes puppies," a voice intoned in the new ad. "But he's running for the United States Senate, and it's important to know where he stands on the issues."

Then the commercial went on to mention Steele's backing of the war in Iraq, that he supported George Bush's veto of embryonic stem cell research, that he's against a woman's right to choose, etc.

It concluded: "Michael Steele likes puppies, but he loves George Bush."

Ouch.

So now, with a month left until the general elections, the gloves were really off.

The Steele campaign came right back with another doggie commercial, in which Steele smiles knowingly and says: "You knew they were coming -- nasty ads from the Washington crowd."

(He even got the mutt to growl on cue -- how do they do that?)

And this was followed by another attack ad released this week, which begins with Steele standing next to a garbage can -- yep, subtle imagery there -- and saying: "Smell it? Trash from my opponent ... time to take it out."

Oh, yeah, we're gouging eyes and punching below the belt now!

Not to be outdone, the Cardin campaign released a new ad of its own Tuesday, again linking Steele to Bush, whom the Democrats delight in portraying as a political Typhoid Mary.

And thus we're assured of being treated to an endless round of dueling attack ads until Nov. 7.

Great.

On the other hand, maybe it serves us right.

I say that because we Americans profess to be appalled at these negative ads.

"Why can't these politicians fight fair?" we're always whining. "Why can't they run a positive campaign?"

But the problem is this: All the research seems to indicate these attack ads work.

They often get voters thinking about candidates in a new light -- often in a new, unflattering light. The kind of light where you think: Gee, how is it this guy isn't behind bars right now?

Anyway, now that we've seen a puppy in an ad in the Cardin-Steele race, I'm waiting for one of the candidates to take the next logical step and dust off the greatest campaign prop in history, the acknowledged No. 1 all-time photo-op attention-getter.

That's right: I'm waiting for someone to hold up a baby.

After all, how can you go wrong with a baby?

Although the way this campaign is going, I'm sure we'd find out in a hurry.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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