Republicans running deceptive attack ads, slamming each other

The Takeaway

With the Michigan primary still two weeks away, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are waging war against each other through televised attacks ads.

The Romney-backing Restore Our Future Super PAC has been running an ad in Michigan, Arizona and Ohio depicting Santorum as a “big spender,” citing his record of votes to increase spending while in the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, Santorum responded with an ad from his own campaign, airing in the same states, depicting Romney as “Rombo.” A Romney look-a-like is seen shooting mud with a machine gun at cardboard pop-ups of Santorum.

Notice the mud never actually hits Santorum.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the Romney ad is simply not true. The organization that Romney cites to call Santorum a “big spender” actually ranked Santorum fifth-best of all Senators in terms of reining in government spending. But Jamieson said the ad could be effective — if it’s believed and if it’s allowed to air.

“The question is how clear is the media signal to say it shouldn’t be (believed),” Jamieson said. “And also, to what extent are the stations that are airing this stuff being responsible in putting it on the air. Individual broadcast stations can say ‘No’ to deceptive Super PAC ads. That’s a deceptive, third-party ad. The station shouldn’t have aired that deceptive claim.”

But Santorum’s ad isn’t without fault either. While his criticism of Romney spending $20 million on attack ads isn’t strictly true, it’s hard to argue that Restore Our Future, which has spent millions on attack ads, isn’t doing so on Romney’s behalf. But where the ad runs into trouble is in saying that Romney supported cap-and-trade legislation.

“He never supported it nationally,” Jamieson said. “He did think about it for a time for the northeast, but then he rejected it. So, in an ad alleging dirty politics by Gov. Romney, Sen. Santorum is engaging in some of his own.”

In this case, stations don’t have a choice to block the ad — though it certainly could have criticized Santorum for doing so. Jamieson, who runs, said anyone who wants to criticize stations for running deceptive, third-party ads can visit her website to find out how to get in touch with stations.

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