Ads Turn Nasty With Two Weeks Until Election

Posted February 3, 2004 at 5:59pm

With less than two weeks remaining in Kentucky’s 6th district special election, the ad wars have taken a decidedly negative turn, with both sides arguing it will ultimately aid their candidate and backfire on their opponent.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R) and former state Attorney General Ben Chandler (D) are attacking one another, as are their surrogates at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In fact, the NRCC is attempting to paint Chandler as a repeat offender in the negative ad wars, running a commercial that attempts to link his past statewide races — including his unsuccessful 2003 run for governor — to the strategy he has adopted in this campaign.

“Ben Chandler has a long history of saying one thing and doing another,” said NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti. “It is very relevant for the voters to be aware of.”

That message is hammered home in an NRCC ad running in the district titled “Again,” in which a narrator alleges that in 1991, 1995 and 2003 Chandler pledged to run a positive campaign but “broke his word.”

“Ben Chandler thinks we’ve forgotten, but we haven’t,” intones the narrator. “We can do better.”

Not so, retorted the Chandler campaign.

Spokesman Jason Sauer said he was “perplexed” by the mention of Chandler’s 1991 race for state auditor and his 1995 race for state attorney general in the NRCC ad.

As for last year’s governor’s race, Sauer said that “anyone that had a TV in 2003 knows where the negative attacks came from. Ben Chandler waited as long as he possibly could before responding.”

Chandler lost that race to then-Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) 55 percent to 45 percent. Fletcher’s victory — and subsequent resignation from Congress — created the special election for the Lexington-based seat.

The net effect of that race on Chandler appears to be positive, however, as he began the special election with a wide name identification lead over Kerr and with a favorable impression among voters.

Kerr hit the airwaves the day after Christmas, as she worked to define the race as a referendum on President Bush. One of her early ads introduced her to voters as “cut from the same cloth” as the president.

As a result of this strategy, Kerr’s campaign lost a bit of momentum late last month when Bush decided against making a visit to the district. Republicans point out that the president has never made a campaign stop in a House special election.

Even so, DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards sees the Bush decision as the genesis of the negative attacks in the race.

“A few weeks ago Alice Forgy Kerr saw a television poll where she was 10 points behind, found out Bush wasn’t coming and attacked Chandler,” she said. “We felt it was important to respond to that.”

The poll Bernards cited was conducted by Survey USA, a survey research company that does not use live interviewers and is not recognized as credible by the polling community of either party.

Both the DCCC and the Chandler campaign are firing with both barrels at Kerr’s record during her two terms in the state Senate.

The latest DCCC ad calls Kerr a “Frankfort politician,” alleging that she twice voted herself a pay raise, supported a “secret deal” to double her pension and has backed tax increases.

“It’s part of what’s wrong with Frankfort,” begins a Chandler ad now on the air. “Legislators pass a secret pension increase in the dead of night.”

Chandler’s ad goes on to say he “uncovered the secret pension increase,” a claim that is not entirely accurate, according to a report in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

As attorney general, Chandler’s office investigated the increase at the behest of the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System. Chandler did, however, work successfully to overturn the pension boost, as the ad details.

The commercials are a not-so-subtle attempt to tap into lingering discontent among the state’s voters over the goings-on in the state Capitol.

Fletcher wielded the scandal surrounding then-Gov. Paul Patton (D), who admitted an affair with a state employee, like a cudgel against Chandler, arguing that Democrats’ 32-year stranglehold on the Kentucky statehouse was responsible for the problems.

Democrats are not the only ones bringing up the past, however.

In addition to the NRCC ad on Chandler’s past positive campaign pledges, Kerr is running an ad featuring a bloodhound, a tactic first used successfully by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his 1984 race.

In the latest incarnation, the canine is shown watching television as a narrator says, “Even bloodhounds have trouble tracking Ben Chandler’s positions.”

The ad claims that Chandler has flipped on his stance regarding a no new taxes pledge and on granting drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens and that he lacks a definitive position on the Iraq war.

“Chandler confuses hounds and voters,” concludes the narrator as the dog covers its eyes with its paws.

A McConnell ad in his 1984 campaign against then-Sen. Walter Dee Huddleston (D) showed bloodhounds searching for the Senator around Capitol Hill as well as in Puerto Rico and Los Angeles, where he had made paid speeches when the Senate was in session.

That ad was largely credited with delivering McConnell, then Jefferson County executive, a 5,000-vote victory over Huddleston.