- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

The nation has 11 days before Election Day arrives and shrill political advertising ceases. The 2006 midterms have been anything but sleepy.

“This is a very vigorous, intense campaign, fueled by a widespread sense among candidates and House leadership that change is afoot,” said Donald Green, professor of political science at Yale University.

To date, Republicans and Democrats have spent $117 million on the U.S. Senate and House races, according to the Federal Election Commission, up 27 percent from the comparable period in 2004, when the tab stood at $92.5 million.

When it’s all over, the amount spent on “home-stretch advertising, voter mobilization and other campaigning” by parties, candidates and advocacy groups may be as high as $2.6 billion, the Center for Responsive Politics estimated this week.

Big spending is everywhere. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recently dropped $1.5 million on a week’s worth of ads criticizing Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican. In New Jersey, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent $3.5 million to boost support for Tom Kean Jr. The parties are expected to spend a combined $5 million in the battle for the House seat in Seattle’s 8th District.

The candidates are not the only ones in turmoil. Political advisers also are agitated, Mr. Green said.

“There’s a real sense of overload. Voters are seeing some ads dozens of times as campaigners rachet up the outreach to compensate for a fragmented, diminishing audience,” he said.

That audience is getting a mean-spirited showcase. Money spent on negative campaigns — that is, in opposition to a particular candidate — this year accounts for 78 percent of spending on both sides. Two years ago, it was 40 percent. Congressional Quarterly recently estimated that 80 percent of advertising purchases were for negative messages.

An analysis of campaign ads by the nonpartisan watchdog group Political Fact Check — which monitors claims by both sides in print and broadcast — offers ample evidence of mudslinging. The District-based group categorized some recent campaigning content as “moldy bunk” and “mythmaking,” among other things.

Though perhaps weary of the partisan barrage, voters may be more engaged than usual.

“The level of voter interest is higher than it has been in a decade, judging from the polls. The news media is also suggesting to people that this election is critical,” said Adam Berinsky, a political scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Still, he predicts that voter turnout probably will be less than 50 percent, no matter how many ads clutter the political landscape.

Both parties have employed “microtargeting” this election season, using sophisticated demographic and marketing techniques to ferret out niche voting blocs, from urban Hispanics to “Security Moms.”

“Some of these advisers get nostalgic for the old days when you could reach America on the big three broadcast networks alone,” Mr. Green said. “They pine for those times because they were simpler.”

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