"The 2008 campaign will be the dirtiest ever," predicted Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "There will be no sitting president or vice president running, and the last time that happened was 1928. The mud will be so thick that people won't be able to see their TV screens."
A report issued late last week by Annenberg Political Fact Check, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, suggests the increase in negative advertising is a result of a spike in advertising by party committees. Since Labor Day, 91% of the ads from GOP congressional campaign committees for House candidates have been negative, while 81% of the Democratic congressional-campaign-committee ads have been negative.
While both sides have been negative, the report said, there have been marked differences in tone, with Republicans "hitting below the belt."
"What stood out [in Republican ads] was a pronounced tendency to be petty and personal and sometimes careless with the facts," the report said. "The Republican ads variously accuse Democratic candidates of such things as charging an 'adult fantasy' phone call to taxpayers, of being a 'hypocrite,' of being a 'greedy trial lawyer,' of being a 'millionaire know-it-all' or failing to pay business taxes on time."
The group said the Democratic ads are also negative but generally attack Republicans on policy rather than personal issues.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, tracked both House and Senate races to find that negative ads account for 80% of the total in some races. "The Democrats have to argue against the status quo, so they are attacking, while the Republicans are hoping to turn the negatives into nonvoters," she said.
Mr. Sabato said party consultants believe 80% to 90% of political ads this year are negative. "It plays to the popular conception: The public is cynical and doesn't believe positive ads-the lovely family, the dog and cat and a picnic. An election is based on a mood and ... the public mood this year is that they are totally soured on politicians."