I’ve talked a lot about attack ads in this column and in other parts of the paper. And I’m afraid some might think I’m squeamish about such things.
I’m not. It’s true that by this time in an election cycle, I’ve had it up to my ears with all campaign ads. But being a bonafide political junkie, I have to admit that I appreciate a good head-bonking political ad, probably a lot more than average viewers do.
Who can forget the classics like the “Demon Sheep” ad by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in 2010. (Her primary opponent was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” according to Fiorina.) Or, from that same golden year, Alabama Agricultural Commission candidate Dale Peterson, who in a minute-long, angry ad held a rifle, called one of his primary opponents a “dummy” and talked about the “thugs and criminals” who “don’t give a rip about Alabama.”
Now that’s entertainment!
There have been clever negative ads here. For instance, this year in New Mexico has seen Democratic state auditor candidate Tim Keller’s Breaking Bad ad, which actually received national attention because of its overt appeal to fans of the AMC television series — although one national publication quipped that the ad almost implied that Keller’s opponent was cooking meth.
No, the problems I have with the bulk of attack ads are a) they’re not very original, and most aren’t even good enough for a chuckle; and b) they’re full of distortion, half-truths and irreverent dribble.
There was a recent attack ad though that wasn’t very flashy — no demon sheep — but was novel in that it wasn’t full of insults and lies about the candidate being slammed. This was not a television spot but a campaign mailer, so chances are you threw it out with your other junk mail (like I almost did). But I thought it was noteworthy.
I’m talking about the one from a previously unheard-of political action committee that praised Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran and criticized her Democratic opponent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
The group called New Mexicans for Honest Leadership (no points for originality there) is headed by an Albuquerque man named Jeffrey M. Mitchell. In my blog last week, I noted that there’s not much of a record for Mitchell as a political player. His name doesn’t appear as a contributor in the state campaign finance database.
Since then, however, I learned that there’s a lawyer in Albuquerque named Jeffrey M. Mitchell who works in the same law firm as Rob Doughty. Doughty defended the Secretary of State’s Office before the state Supreme Court when Duran was trying to keep the non-binding question about marijuana decriminalization off the general election ballot in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties. I can’t say with 100 percent confidence that the lawyer in Doughty’s firm is the same Jeffrey M. Mitchell who is the leader of the PAC because he never called me back late last week.
The mailer has some of the tacky trimmings of generic attack ads. For instance, there’s a nice color portrait of a smiling Duran and a fuzzy black-and-white snapshot of Oliver with downcast eyes and a frown.
The issue in the mailer is voter fraud and voter ID laws. The text correctly says that Duran supports such laws and Oliver opposes them because she “doesn’t believe voter fraud is a real problem in New Mexico.”
This is true. Oliver has said as much and has produced a recent study by a Loyola Law School professor who found only 31 credible cases of fraud committed at polling places in the U.S. since 2000.
Of course, no academic study is going to change the minds of those who think voter fraud is a national scourge. But at least this mailer didn’t distort any quotes, bring up votes from the past century or personally slam anyone’s character.