TWIN FALLS • With less than two months before the May GOP primary election, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and first-time challenger Bryan Smith both argue their negative political advertisements are simply methods of setting the record straight and not meant to be seen as personal attacks.
Simpson’s campaign recently released a television ad that targets Smith’s career as an attorney.
“He’s a personal injury lawyer who’s enriched himself by filing over 10,000 lawsuits,” says a voice in the Simpson ad. “...Opposed conservative efforts to limit frivolous lawsuits and outrageous payouts that cost businesses millions and drive up healthcare expenses.”
Smith is also shown saying, “I love my job... I love my job... I love my job...”
The ad was sent out as a response to the months of attacks Smith has unleashed since September on radio stations and the Internet, said Todd Cranney, senior advisor with Simpson’s campaign.
“For months now, Bryan Smith and his Washington D.C. allies have been attacking Mike Simpson on a daily basis. We’re simply responding and pointing out Bryan’s record,” Cranney said. “We’re pointing out Smith’s record. It’s up to the voters to decide.”
Smith’s campaign manager Carrie Brown countered that her camp’s ads aren’t negative because they don’t attack Simpson personally, instead targeting his voting record.
“Mike Simpson is a very nice guy, but our focus has only been on his voting record,” Brown said. “I think you can find that in the ads we have released. The only thing we’re saying is that his voting record is liberal.”
Smith’s attack campaign recently included a March 24 news release pointing out that U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2011 praised Simpson’s vote to fund a park in her district, which was couched as part of Simpson’s “liberal voting record.”
Club for Growth — a Washington-based group known for its limited-government, tea party movement initiatives — has also released attack ads on Simpson’s voting record, saying that he voted to increase the national debt without including spending cuts.
Simpson, however, has received the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which includes Idaho’s Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot on its board. It’s second time in recent months that the Chamber has decided to take a side in an internal Republican fight, after falling out with the GOP’s right-wing because of last year’s federal shutdown. Their ads challenged Club for Growth’s claim that Simpson was a “Republican in name only.”
Only critiquing a challenger’s voting records can quickly distract voters from the candidate’s stand on key political issues, said David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy in Boise. But while they aren’t always good for keeping voters informed, negative ads do succeed on persuading voters, he said. With more relaxed rules on campaign spending over the years, political ads can become more acute and dramatic to capture a voter’s attention.
“We see this work when you can drive up the negative side of your opponent by portraying him as ignorant, selfish, uninformed or the devil himself,” Adler said. “This dramatic rhetoric that’s an entirely new pitch to voters.”