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Democrats Focus on Opponents’ Shady Financial Dealings

Democrats are launching fierce negative advertising campaigns against Republicans across the country, noted Sunday’s New York Times, but not all party officials are convinced about the wisdom of taking the low road. And because a number of GOP candidates have entered from fields outside politics, opposition research outfits are mining a number of sources — some conventional, some not — including tax filings, divorce proceedings, and reports from the Better Business Bureau in an attempt to tar these upstarts before they can define themselves:

In Ohio, Representative Betty Sutton calls her Republican rival, Tom Ganley, a “dishonest used-car salesman” who has been sued more than 400 times for fraud, discrimination, lying to customers about repairs, overcharging them and endangering their safety. She warns voters, “You’ve heard the old saying, buyer beware!”

In Arizona, Representative Harry E. Mitchell accused his opponent David Schweikert of being “a predatory real estate speculator who snatched up nearly 300 foreclosed homes, been cited for neglect and evicted a homeowner on the verge of saving his house, just to make a buck.”

In New York, Representative Michael Arcuri introduces his Republican challenger, Richard Hanna, as a millionaire who “got rich while his construction company overcharged taxpayers thousands, was sued three times for injuries caused by faulty construction and was cited 12 times for health and safety violations.”

But others, like Time’s Mark Halperin, are noting that some GOP candidates for whom it seems like their previous careers — working at Lehman Brothers, drawing up budgets under the Bush Administration — would paint targets on their backs, are cruising towards strong leads despite the efforts of Democrats to point out their complicity in the financial collapse:

In Ohio, the ex–Lehman Brothers executive (and former long-term Republican Congressman) John Kasich has opened up a comfortable lead over the incumbent Democratic governor Ted Strickland. Also in the Buckeye State, Rob Portman, who headed both the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in the last Bush Administration, is considered by even most Democratic strategists to be a lock to win an open Senate seat and beat the state’s lieutenant governor Lee Fisher. Ohio voters have been told over and over again, on radio and television, flyers and blast e-mails, about how rich Kasich got in the era of Wall Street plunder, and how Portman contributed to George W. Bush’s record of deficits and the blight of American jobs shipped overseas. But those messages have bounced off like popgun caps rather than pierced like silver bullets.

The same can be said of Florida GOP governor candidate Rick Scott, whose company defrauded the government by submitting false Medicare claims, and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who worked in derivatives on Wall Street and later proposed placing seniors’ social security payments in privatized personal savings accounts. But the comfortable leads enjoyed by the GOP candidates in question seem less like a function of backlash from Democratic attack ads and more like an expression of frustration with sitting members of Congress and of support for their opponents, whatever baggage they might carry.

In the broad battle of ideas over the state of the economy, it appears that the GOP has successfully steered concerns away from corporate excess and malfeasance and towards government spending. Going negative gives Democrats a chance to define their opponents as people apart from such broad narratives that they likely feel powerless to change at this point. It might not be the complete answer, but it hardly seems like the source of their woes.

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