The economy is in rough shape, even by the most optimistic of interpretations. Many industries (coughnewspaperscough) are collapsing beneath us. But there’s one industry, albeit small and seasonal, that seems to be soaring: political attack ads.
According to the Associated Press, state and federal candidates have spent $395 million on attack ads already, far more than the $286 million spent at this point in 2006, the previous midterm election. “More than half” of that has been negative. Furthermore, parties and other groups have added another $150 million so far, ahead of the $109 million from 2006, of which some 80 percent has been negative.
Those figures came from Evan Tracey at the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Why has the mudslinging started so early and continued so strong? Part of the increased media frenzy is due to the current power setup in Washington. As the incumbent party in the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats are facing intense pressure and scrutiny from the right. Faced with losing their strong majority in the Senate (not that that’s made for smooth legislative sailing) and almost certainly control of the House, Democrats are facing a referendum on their policies and achievements, which while historic and far-reaching have been anathema to much of the right. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post’s The Fix blog says:
The approach reflects a stark reality of this election cycle: going negative is the only way to turn the election from a referendum on Democratic control of Washington to a choice between two candidates. So, go negative — early, often and hard.
Certainly a good deal of that increase is due to the newly established Tea Parties. The AP report singles out Americans for Prosperity, one of the Tea Party groups funded by conservative David Koch (one of the billionaire brothers “who are waging a war against Obama”).
Some Democrats (probably the smart ones) are truly taking to heart the mantra, “The best defense is a good offense.” Democratic strategists breathed easy when Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle won the Republican primary to face Harry Reid this November. She has a good deal of populist support, but has surprisingly alienated many independents with some of her extreme positions, including unapologetically stating there are “domestic enemies” in Congress, disavowing abortions even in the case of incest and rape, and rejecting money from companies that support gay rights. Oh, and hinting at “Second Amendment remedies” against liberal politicians.
It remains to be seen how the Tea Party candidates will do in races across the nation; however, those results will be crucial to media planning for 2012.