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Political Ad Campaigns Go Big, Go Negative, or Go Home

The economy might still be suffering, but political advertising expenditures — both by candidates, political parties, and outside groups — are way up, reports the Associated Press. Candidates have spent $395 million on ads for the November elections thus far, compared to $286 million during the last midterm election cycle. Political parties and outside groups have spent $150 million thus far, $41 million more than at this point in 2006.

Most of ads — surprise, surprise — have been negative, and they’re proving crucial to a number of races:

The numbers — compiled by Evan Tracey, who tracks political ads as president of CMAG, a division of Kantar Media — reflect a need by candidates and their allies to define opponents quickly to an increasingly engaged electorate. Those who don’t have paid the price.

Bill McCollum, running for Florida governor, and Lisa Murkowski, running for re-election as senator from , may have fought back too late in their respective Republican primaries. Their opponents attacked them early and often, costing McCollum the election Tuesday and leaving a stunned Murkowski on the edge of defeat.

Two candidates who seem to have taken this advice to heart are Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Both have spent early and often and haven’t been afraid to go negative against their upstart political challengers. McCain was rewarded with a smashing primary victory over former Rep. J. D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday, and Reid now looks in better shape vis-à-vis Republican Sharron Angle than he did in months prior.

The only high profile candidate who seems to be content, thus far, to avoid going negative is Colorado gubernatorial hopeful, John Hickenlooper (D), who’s enjoying a comfortable lead over conservatives Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo. Hickenlooper is up with an ad that shows him jumping into the shower, repeatedly and fully clothed, to cleanse himself of all the attack ads being aired in the state.

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