Attacks on character dominate campaigns

October 28, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In the waning days of this year's closely contested midterm campaign, attacks aimed at impugning a candidate's character and morals increasingly are dominating campaigns, raising questions about the appropriate boundaries and tenor of the debate.

Yesterday, James Webb, the Democratic Senate candidate in Virginia, came under harsh attack for explicit sexual passages he wrote in a novel years ago - the latest twist in his nasty race with Republican incumbent George Allen.

In Tennessee, much of the week's campaign focused on a TV ad featuring a woman suggesting that she met Harold E. Ford Jr., the Democratic Senate candidate, at a Playboy party and, saying, with a wink, "Harold, call me."

In New York, Michael Arcuri, a Democratic candidate for Congress, was accused of billing taxpayers for a call to a sex line.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats needled President Bush for signing a bill for "National Character Counts" a week before campaigning for Republican Rep. Don Sherwood, who has admitted to an affair.

"We've reached the point where negative ads have become more important than positive campaigns, and there's almost no line left to cross," said University of Pennsylvania political scientist Don Kettl.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: "Negative ads work, which is why you see so many of them."

The focus on the conduct of candidates comes against the backdrop of a sex scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican.

But some of the candidates are fighting back.

When the National Republican Congressional Committee aired an ad accusing Arcuri of calling a sex hot line, the candidate dug out 2004 phone records to show that an aide had misdialed the number. It had the same last seven digits as the number for the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, which was dialed shortly after the first call, his campaign said. Threatening legal action, Arcuri's campaign persuaded TV stations to refuse to run the ad.

Yesterday, the Allen campaign seized on Webb's writings in a state where turnout by conservative voters could prove pivotal in a close race, issuing a statement from a "mother of three" calling portions of his books "shocking" and reflecting "a pattern of demeaning treatment toward women."

Webb, called the attack a "classic example of the way this campaign has worked. It's smear after smear."

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