Air assault

"Air assault" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 15, 2007

Romney's campaign began airing an ad in November criticizing "Hillary and the other Democrats" for supporting a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens who meet certain requirements.

Clinton responded with her own television ad this month that begins: "Here they go again-the same old Republican attack machine is back. Why?" The narrator offers this answer: "Maybe it's because they know that there's one candidate with the strength and experience to get us out of Iraq . . . one candidate committed to cutting the huge Republican deficit."

Though Clinton is the target of most Republican firepower, media analysts say that dynamic could work in her favor: When Republican opponents don't mention other Democratic contenders, Clinton may appear to be the inevitable nominee, an image she has painstakingly cultivated in her own campaign.

While Geer says more negative ads are likely to roll out during the Christmas season, he maintains that negative ads are a positive step in a presidential campaign. The political scientist recently authored In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns and analyzed negative ads in presidential races from 1960 to 2004.

Geer found that negative ads usually focus on policy issues more than positive ads. "Positive ads show things like candidates holding children and talking about the future," he said. "What does that tell you about policy? Not much."

Negative ads tend to spotlight candidates' positions on issues, and they ask voters to examine the details of a candidate's proposals and claims. "We need to be debating and having these discussions," says Geer. "Focusing only on the positive is a recipe for disaster, and it's not democratic."

While candidates need to tread carefully when airing ads during the holiday season, New Hampshire Republican Party president Fergus Cullen says voters in his state expect the seasons to overlap. "I expect candidates will work the Communion line at St. Joe's on Christmas Eve," he joked to reporters. "It won't harm candidates if they run aggressive campaigns."

In the meantime, retailers who depend on Christmas sales are waiting to see if political advertising will harm their bottom line this year. Federal law requires television stations to provide equal air time to candidates beginning 45 days before an election. That means campaigns willing to pay top dollar for prime television time could bump retailers who reserved advertising space months ago.

Evan Tracey of the TNS Campaign Media Analysis Group told the Associated Press that political ads could wreak havoc for retailers if 16 candidates and a slew of interest groups begin battling for the same air time over the holidays: "This is just like adding a hailstorm to a hurricane."

Geer says candidates who secure prime air time for advertising will still face the stiffest reality of the Christmas season: "People tune out politics."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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