Voters getting their election information from television this year could be forgiven for thinking the parties are trying to send a bunch of monsters to Washington.
A slate of Republican-backed ads Tuesday warn that Democratic House candidates will embrace a leftist agenda, foster “chaos” and salute Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the national anthem.
Things have gotten particularly personal in Kansas, where a House Republican political action committee told voters this month that Democrat Paul Davis “was caught with a topless stripper during a drug bust at his client’s strip club.”
Democrats are countering with their own ads calling Republican Steve Watkins a “liar” and “fraud.”
Negative campaigning has been a staple of politics for decades, but analysts said the volume this year is striking.
Since Labor Day, 569,000 negative attack ads have aired in federal races, blowing past the 2010 record of nearly 450,000, a study released Tuesday by the Wesleyan Media Project found.
“With control of Congress up for grabs and more competitive races, we generally expect campaign activity and negativity to increase, but the amount of negative ads — and sheer amount of advertising on television more generally in 2018 — is really stunning,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.
Most of that is coming not from the candidates themselves, but from parties and outside political action committees.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent more than $65 million on negative ads, while the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent just under $60 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with the House GOP, has dumped $109 million into negative ads against more than 50 House Democratic candidates.
“There has been nearly three times as much negative outside spending this cycle as positive, which is up a bit from 2016 and 2014 but slightly below 2012’s ratio,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics. “That’s to be expected because part of the value of outside spending is that the candidate can stay positive and keep their hands clean, while allied outside groups do the dirty work of tearing down the opponent.”
The latest round of ads from the NRCC target Democrats in 14 congressional districts, including Dan Feehan in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District, where he is trying to unseat Rep. Jim Hagedorn.
“When Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, Dan Feehan salutes him,” the narrator says in the 30-second “Yes man” spot. “When Keith Ellison is accused of abusing a woman, Feehan stands by him, and when Pelosi needs another liberal march in lockstep, Feehan says ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
The DCCC, meanwhile, ran an ad last month saying Mr. Hagedorn is in the pocket of big pharmaceutical companies and that he “supported allowing insurance companies to charge older Minnesotan five times more for their care.”
The DCCC leveled a similar charge this month against Rep. Mike Bishop in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, warning the Republican is doing more for the insurance companies that have donated half a million dollars to his campaigns than he is for the taxpayers who pay his $174,000 congressional salary.
“Who is getting more for their money?” the narrator asks.
“In Washington, Mike Bishop voted to allow insurance companies to charge older folks more for health care and gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” the ad says. “That’s Mike Bishop’s record of working for the drug and insurance companies. Michigan should get our money back.”
The NRCC returned fire in one of the ads it released Tuesday, saying Mrs. Pelosi is bankrolling Democrat Elissa Slotkin’s campaign.
“Because a vote for Slotkin is a vote for Pelosi’s agenda — for tax hikes, for amnesty, for chaos,” the narrator says. “The only way you can stop Nancy Pelosi is to stop Elissa Slotkin.”
While viewers often gripe about being bombarded with negative ads, the motivation behind them is simple: They work.
That has left some voters this year contemplating the lesser of the evils.
GOP candidates and their allies warn Democrats will pursue impeachment of President Trump, attempt a gun grab, invite more illegal immigrants into the country, and sign off on abortion on demand.
Democrats and their allies say Republicans will cancel Americans’ health coverage, and warn of deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security if the GOP keeps control of Congress.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said the polarized nature of the electorate could make the attacks even more powerful this year.
“It tends to have a reinforcing effect for your own voters,” Mr. Madonna said. “People who support one party when they see a commercial attacking the other party — that ratchets up their concern and their interest.”
The Center for Responsive Politics projected this week that the candidates, political parties and outside groups will have invested $5.2 billion in the Nov. 6 elections, which would set a new spending record for midterm elections.
It also found that the political parties and outside groups have funneled $819 million on negative ads, easily surpassing the nearly $597 million spent on negative ads four years ago.