Parties Whack Senate Race Opponents with Negative Sites

Some political consultants view the Web as a mere ATM for donation-hungry campaigns, but it’s also served as a sparring ring in which candidates can sucker punch their opponents. This year, the boxing canvas is the attack Web site, and the jabs of choice are Flash animation and political spin. National and state party organizations have been launching sites exposing the opposing party’s pugilist in key Senate races.

“It’s a way of putting into one location what anybody would want to know about our opponent,” said Maryland Democratic Party Communications Director David Paulson. He was involved in the development of The Real Steele, a site mimicking the official Web site of Maryland Republican Senate hopeful Michael Steele. “It’s a growth extension of the way you do a good attack message,” Paulson said of the site, which portrays Steele as out of touch and closely aligned with President Bush.

In 2004, 527 group The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth helped KO Democratic Presidential contender John Kerry with a site calling into question his military record. The site helped the group score coverage from the mainstream press, and in turn, enough negative attention to affect Kerry’s Presidential chances.

That site, however, wasn’t on Paulson’s mind when the Maryland Democrats originally decided to create the anti-Steele site. Instead, it was one created in support of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine during his gubernatorial campaign against Republican Jerry Kilgore last year. “To me it was a great resource not just for opposition people…but it was a great resource for the press,” said Paulson.

The Maryland Democrats have promoted their Steele attack site through e-mails sent to supporters in the hopes they’ll pass it along, “but we have to get it beyond our folks,” said Paulson. Indeed, the site has garnered some brief media coverage in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and elsewhere.

The national Republican and Democratic Senatorial committees have been throwing right and left hooks through a series of silly sites targeting candidates in key Senate races. Earlier this year, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) struck back at a site created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) with a parody of the original. The DSCC’s Very Fancy Frist took shots at Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Frist, and parodied FancyFord.com, an NRSC site intended to disparage Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford as a lavish partier. Both Web sites were reportedly advertised on Tennessee newspaper sites.

Frist isn’t running against Ford, though. Perhaps that’s why the DSCC’s Truth About Bob Corker site is also available for political junkies’ viewing pleasure. The site shows the Tennessee Republican Senate candidate in a negative light with a campaign ad video and some news clips. It features none of the standard features of political sites like e-mail or volunteer sign ups, though.

Neither does Spinning A Webb, a site recently launched by the NRSC just in time for Halloween. The site spotlights Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb’s “frightening views on women” and “blood-curdling tax views.”

Some NRSC attack sites do feature e-mail sign ups or links to contribute to the committee, including Bob’s Baggage, which maligns New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, and Clueless Claire, a site lampooning Missouri’s Democratic Senate hopeful Claire McCaskill.

The DSCC strikes back at Bob’s Baggage with TooJuniorforJersey.com, a site portraying New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. as a GOP frat boy. Other pro-Democrat attack sites include the DSCC’s George Allen for Prez and The Washington State Democrats’ BuyingBurns.com, which criticize Virginia Republican George Allen and Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns.

Another he said/she said pair of sites get their names from Arizona Senator John McCain’s Republican Presidential Primary campaign bus, The Straight Talk Express. The NRSC’s Flash animation site PedersonsLiberalExpress.com and Pederson 2006’s Double-Talk Express site show the dark sides of Arizona Senate contenders, Democrat Jim Pederson and Republican Senator John Kyl.

Making sure such sites are factual and humorous is important, said Paulson, adding, “While it’s aggressive it’s got to be accurate.” Sites like The Real Steele might not have as much effect in elections to come as they do now, he continued, noting, “In order to truly stand out you have to do something bombastic…Its effectiveness will probably be watered down as time goes on.”

Carol Darr, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet, expects more and meaner sites to surface as the upcoming Presidential election season gets rolling. “You’re going to see a lot of this I think in 2008,” she said. “This is the preview and coming attractions.”

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