- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Negative ads have been flooding the television airwaves in the final week before Election Day, but the political messaging in the mailbox might be even worse.

A mailer from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, for example, features a woman’s bruised face alongside a message that Republican Sen. David Boutin won’t protect victims of domestic violence. A mailer from Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn shows a hooded, dark-skinned man holding a gun to make the claim that Sanborn’s Democratic opponent is soft on crime.

The two races could help determine control of the 24-member state Senate where Republicans hold 13 seats and neither side is holding back.

“They’re trying to get noticed in that 10 seconds between you opening your mailbox and you throwing everything in the recycling bin; that creates an incentive to be provocative,” said Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College who studies political misperception.

Boutin faces former state Rep. Maureen Raiche Manning. The domestic violence mailer calls Boutin “shameful” for voting against a bill prohibiting landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence.

Boutin says the mailer misrepresents his strong voting record on domestic violence bills, including a measure prohibiting employers from discriminating against domestic violence victims. Boutin and most Republicans voted against the housing bill because they worried it would put unreasonable burdens on small landlords. He supported creating a committee to further study the issue.

The Democratic Party wouldn’t explain why they used the image of a bruised woman in the mailer.

“Dave Boutin had the chance to vote to put in place vital housing protections for domestic violence victims into law and he voted against it. He must answer for this vote, just like he needs to answer for his over-the-top, nasty attacks on Maureen Manning,” the party said in a statement.

Boutin has painted Manning as “soft on crime.” One of his mailers includes the mug shot of a convicted child killer alongside the message that Manning voted against a bill in the 1980s aimed at keeping criminals in jail through their mandatory sentences. Another features a photo of convicted cop killer Michael Addison, the only person on New Hampshire’s death row.

Sanborn uses a similar message against his Democratic opponent Lee Nyquist.

“Trial lawyer Lee Nyquist started his career by getting a would-be cop killer off on technicalities,” the mailer reads, referring to a client Nyquist defended in the 1980s. A dark-skinned man in a hoodie glares out, holding a gun next to baggies of cocaine.

“The line between something like this which gestures to dangerous, dark-skinned men and the ways in which real people police the streets and have to make instinctual decisions about who is dangerous and who isn’t is very short,” said Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana studies and American studies at Brown University.

Sanborn did not respond to requests for comment.

Nyquist and the Democrats hit Sanborn on his previous business dealings. One mailer features a person in handcuffs with headlines about a Drug Enforcement Agency raid on a drug paraphernalia shop that rents space in a building Sanborn owns.

“The advantage of running a negative (mail piece) is there may not be publicity attached to it,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “The thing about mail is, unless you’re tracking it, no one knows it’s out there except for the people getting the mail at home.”

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