- Associated Press - Monday, December 26, 2011

Watch the political advertising and Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, either “sides with extreme left” protesters or has a history of being too cozy with Wall Street. Or freshman Sen. Scott P. Brown, the Republican she hopes to defeat next year, is an enemy of the environment.

Outside groups on both sides are spending millions of dollars on the race, highlighting the national prominence of the fight over the seat held for nearly 50 years by Edward M. Kennedy. But the level of spending also foreshadows the role such groups, including special political action committees, will play in many of next fall’s big political matchups.

The flood of money and ads from outside the state is expected to surge as the Warren-Brown race intensifies.

“Massachusetts is at the end of the spear of what will be the big trend and the big story of 2012,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks spending on political ads.

Super PACs have been showing their strength in marquee Senate races. The Supreme Court, in a trio of decisions capped by the landmark Citizens United case in 2010, eased restrictions on the use of corporate money in political campaigns and paved the way for such spending.

Massachusetts is front and center, with the conservative Crossroads GPS spending $1.1 million on one spot casting Ms. Warren as aligned with radical elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement and another that has her siding with Wall Street bankers.

Crossroads GPS is an affiliate of American Crossroads, a group with ties to Karl Rove, a top political adviser to President George W. Bush. The groups spent more than $38 million to defeat Democrats in the 2010 midterms, raising money from large donors, including many whose identities remain unknown.

Crossroads GPS was by far the largest and most influential super PAC in that campaign year.

Last month, one Crossroads ad used spliced images of Ms. Warren with rowdy Occupy Wall Street protesters to claim that she “sides with extreme left” protesters who “attack police, do drugs and trash public parks.”

Ms. Warren said her philosophies provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Occupy movement, but she since has backed off a bit, saying she supports the movement but that the protesters must follow the law.

A second Crossroads ad then painted Mr. Warren as being too cozy with Wall Street when she headed a congressional panel that oversaw the Treasury’s handling of the $700 billion financial industry bailout, a charge Ms. Warren has dismissed as ridiculous.

The attacks prompted Warren to spend about $1 million on her first TV campaign ad, in which she says: “Before you hear a bunch of ridiculous attack ads, I want to tell you who I am.”

Ms. Warren is an especially inviting target for Republicans because many voters don’t know much about her, which Anthony J. Corrado Jr., a campaign-finance scholar at Colby College in Maine, said explains why these groups have become active at such an early stage of the campaign.

“The first information can often have a powerful influence,” he said.

Meanwhile other outside groups have gone after Mr. Brown. The League of Conservation Voters and the League of Women Voters have spent nearly $3 million on separate ad campaigns accusing Mr. Brown of casting anti-environmental votes in an ad Mr. Brown dismissed as “political demagoguery.”

The League of Women Voters’ ad rapped Mr. Brown for voting with other Senate Republicans to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from controlling gases blamed for global warming. It showed a child breathing through an oxygen mask and urged Mr. Brown to “protect the people and not the polluters.”

One spot by the League of Conservation Voters slammed Mr. Brown for siding with “big oil” and voting “repeatedly against protecting our environment and public health.” He has denounced that ad as a distortion.

The early wave of attack ads has hurt both candidates, a recent University of Massachusetts-Lowell/Boston Herald poll found. The percentage of voters who said they had an unfavorable view of Mr. Brown rose from 29 percent to 35 percent between late September and early December. Those viewing Ms. Warren unfavorably increased from 18 percent to 27 percent.

Mr. Brown wants third-party groups to pull their negative commercials. Ms. Warren draws the line at unfair attack ads but defends the rights of political action committees and other independent groups to run ads.

Such talk, however, won’t stop outside groups from swarming the airwaves with negative ads. Indeed, the federal laws that give outside groups freedom to spend whatever they wish expressly require that the groups not coordinate with the candidates.

“This is just a harbinger of things to come,” Mr. Corrado said.

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