When candidates attack

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 5, 2006

Negative literature does more to confuse than inform voters

By Sarah Light, staff writer

Mudslinging. Criticism. Negativity.

The voting population has received a lot of it this election season on local and state levels.

But come Tuesday, will these advertisements be effective, or do they just confuse voters?

Political science professor Fred Slocum of Minnesota State University-Mankato said ads that focus on personal details of an opponent are more likely to turn voters off.

&8220;I think there&8217;s some evidence that attack ads tend to shrink and demobilize the voters,&8221; Slocum said.

That is conditional, though, based on how much the attack ads control the campaign, he said.

But what do voters think?

Evie Cunningham of Clarks Grove said this is the first time she has really wanted to vote in an election but that because of the negative advertisements, she is having a difficult time deciding who she will vote for.

She said she doesn&8217;t like the candidates who pull these type of advertisements into their campaigns.

&8220;I think it&8217;s ridiculous,&8221; Cunningham said. &8220;It makes me not want to vote at all. I want to know what they stand for, not what they think about their opponent.&8221;

Bruce Owens of Albert Lea said he wished the candidates would talk more about their knowledge of state or national problems instead of their opposing candidate.

He said he can see where negative advertisements would frustrate voters and he wishes the candidates would talk more about their solutions for the issues.

&8220;I&8217;m glad when Wednesday comes,&8221; Owens said. &8220;I&8217;ve kind of quit listening to them. I&8217;ve made up my mind who I&8217;m going to vote for.&8221;

Response from candidates and political parties

Jessica McIntosh, communications spokesperson with the Minnesota DFL party, said the ads sent out from the DFL Party, specifically opposing Republican House candidate Matt Benda, are not personal attacks.

&8220;There&8217;s absolutely nothing dirty about these ads,&8221; McIntosh said. &8220;We&8217;re not saying anything about a candidate they haven&8217;t already said about themselves.&8221;

She said the ads are sent out to help voters make an informed decision come Election Day.

Benda, who has called at least three press conferences in response to the fliers, said during his latest conference on Thursday that it is clear that people are tired of negativity in Minnesota.

Benda and his opponent, DFLer Robin Brown, made a pledge at the start of election season to run a clean campaign.

He said he would continue to run a positive campaign until the end of the race and asked that voters take the time to study the issues and then make an informed decision.

Rep. Dan Dorman, who was also at the conference, said it&8217;s OK to talk about the issues of a campaign but that when parties take something and twist it, it goes too far.

&8220;I think it&8217;s time we sent a message that that kind of campaigning has no place,&8221; Dorman said.

He called the fliers a &8220;low&8221; effort designed to distort information.

He said Brown either is unable to have influence in her party and ask them to stop the ads or that she doesn&8217;t care about the ads. He&8217;s never seen a candidate&8217;s wishes not be respected by the party, he said.

Slocum said he could speculate why candidates parties sometimes do not listen to their requests.

&8220;Perhaps the candidates are vague in their requests to the parties; therefore, the parties are interpreting the restraints very narrowly,&8221; he said.

In an interview Friday, Brown said she requested the DFL headquarters to keep the campaign clean.

She said she knows that her opponent and Dorman know she has nothing to do with the fliers and that she has kept her pledge to run a clean campaign.

&8220;I know that people don&8217;t like it, and I don&8217;t like it,&8221; she said. &8220;I feel they&8217;re absolutely wrong. I have never campaigned that way.&8221;

When Benda has called press conferences to discuss the negative ads, he is, in a sense, bringing negative attention toward her in a different way, she said.

It is unfortunate that these fliers have had to become such a large issue when people are really more interested in discussing issues, Brown said.

Greg Peppin, director of the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee, said as far as Republican House campaigns go, he knows the party is strongly opposed to personal negative attacks on people.

&8220;Generally it&8217;s insulting to the voters&8217; intelligence. It&8217;s not productive; it doesn&8217;t work,&8221; Peppin said.

Voters are usually looking for a more substantive take on the candidate&8217;s issues instead, he said.

Peppin said he couldn&8217;t comment on the Senate campaigns. A Senate media spokesperson could not be reached to comment.

In the race for state Senate between Sen. Dan Sparks and George Marin, the Tribune came across one ad sent out by the Minnesota Family Council against Sparks.

When asked about his role in the advertisement, Marin said he was not aware of the ad until it arrived at his house just like it would for other voters.

&8220;I did not know anything about it,&8221; he said. &8220;Nobody asked me my opinion on it, so that is just a piece on the Senator&8217;s record as far as I&8217;m concerned.&8221;

He said the flier was not sent out by his campaign or his party.

The Minnesota Family Council and Sen. Dan Sparks could not be reached for comment.

So have the ads this season worked?

Voters and candidates will find out Wednesday.