Analysis: It's the season for tough political ads

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

Midterm federal elections are just a week away, and many Mississippi TV viewers are being hit with a steady stream of vitriolic political advertising.

The bash-your-opponent commercials are particularly intense in two of the state’s four U.S. House districts — up north in the 1st and down south in the 4th. The Delta-into-Jackson 2nd District and the central 3rd District are not considered competitive this year.

Democrat Travis Childers is trying to hold onto the 1st District seat he won in May 2008. He’s accusing Republican challenger Alan Nunnelee of wanting to slap a 23 percent national sales tax on everything from groceries to guns — never mind that the so-called “fair tax” probably has little chance of becoming law and that even if it did, the plan would eliminate income taxes and payroll taxes.

Nunnelee has been vague on the issue, saying only that he wants taxes to be simpler. Nunnelee lists the fair tax as something he “likes” on Facebook, but says that doesn’t mean he agrees with every detail of the plan.

Nunnelee and his supporters are doing their best to convince people that a vote for Childers equals a vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Childers says he wants to support somebody more conservative as speaker, but he’s not committing his vote anytime soon because he doesn’t know who’s running.

Republicans’ tactic of portraying Pelosi as a scary Washington insider who wants to take over people’s lives is probably a safer bet than bashing President Barack Obama in the 1st District, where about 24 percent of the voters are black. While it’s possible to criticize the first black president solely on the policies he’s promoted, Republicans would have to strike the right balance to avoid irritating black voters who might see the criticism as race-based. An energized black electorate would help Childers and hurt Nunnelee. Black voters who stay home would help Nunnelee and hurt Childers.

In the 4th District, 21-year Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor has been running an ad accusing his Republican challenger, Steven Palazzo, of voting “against property rights and for the big-shot developers.” Palazzo has served in the state House of Representatives since 2007.

Taylor cites Palazzo’s 2009 vote to uphold Republican Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would’ve restricted the taking of private property through eminent domain. Barbour said the bill would’ve hurt economic development. Legislative records show Palazzo was one of 19 who voted to uphold Barbour’s veto in the House; 101 House members voted to override but Barbour ultimately prevailed in the Senate.

Palazzo says he supports property rights and Taylor is misrepresenting his position.

Palazzo is also trying to link Taylor to Pelosi. A Palazzo ad ends with photos of Taylor and Pelosi while a narrator says: “Gene’s gone Washington and it’s time to send him home.” Palazzo’s campaign website features a C-SPAN video clip showing Taylor voting for Pelosi as speaker in 2009 — a vote that earned Taylor some applause from a clearly surprised Pelosi.

Taylor has long had a reputation as a go-it-alone guy who’s willing to oppose his own party’s leadership. Like Childers, Taylor voted against the massive federal health overhaul that became law earlier this year.

Taylor has said early and often during this campaign that while he voted for Pelosi for speaker in the past, he won’t do it again. He’s pushing the idea of Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, a Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, as speaker.