By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND — Hold onto your TV remotes, Virginians, the negative political ads are coming fast and furious.
How many positive ads? Zero.
Swing-state Virginia is a key target in the air war waged by President Barack Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Both campaigns will devote sizable percentages of their media war chests to win the Old Dominion’s 13 electoral votes.
Obama, the first Democrat to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, has put up tough ads attacking Romney’s business background. The populist narrative contains not-so-subtle hints that the former boss of Bain Capital is some sort of vulture capitalist who got rich at others’ expense.
The president and Romney were deadlocked in the latest Quinnipiac poll at 44 percent, but the Republicans’ negatives were far higher, and the Obama camp is seizing on that.
Ads for Obama have suggested that Romney’s vision of the American dream involves Indian call centers and Caribbean tax havens.
“What is Mitt Romney hiding?” one recent ad asked, related The New York Times.
The former Massachusetts governor and his surrogates have fired back with ads accusing the president of holding a “strange” and “foreign” political philosophy.
Crossroads GPS, a group headed by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, spent $500,000 airing an ad titled “He Promised,” attacking the Obama administration’s green energy policies, and its handling of the Solyndra scandal, and its failure to cut taxes and balance the budget.
While the verbiage can be cutting and the videos less-than-flattering, the blitzkrieg of negative ads comes with a risk.
“Voters are already turning off their televisions,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz told the Times. “It’s getting harder and harder to find a message that cuts through.”
But at least one observer of Virginia’s political scene says it’s business as usual in the battleground state. And that means relentless negativity.
“There’s something of a myth that President Obama ran an exclusively positive campaign in 2008. He ran plenty of negative ads, as did John McCain,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“This race is no different, on either side,” he told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau.
Kondik said he could not make a judgment on the truthfulness of the 2012 ads.
Toni-Michelle Travis, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, said that ads questioning Obama’s loyalty and patriotism could be resonate with Virginia’s heavily military constituency.
“These kinds of ads play to people’s underlying fears. I call it the dark version of ‘Morning in America,’” she said, referring to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 ad campaign.
Travis said she wouldn’t be surprised to see the subject of religion hit the air before fall.
“I’m waiting to see ads about Romney’s [Mormon] religion. Virginia is very Christian,” she noted.