Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 29, 2012

George Weeks: Code red alert

BY GEORGE WEEKS, Syndicated columnist
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---- — Some Michigan cities last week had code red smog alerts for unhealthy air pollution. Also taking a turn for the worse: the political ozone on broadcast airwaves across this battleground state.

It's increasingly ugly between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, fanned in part by the massive spending by Super PACS that are a new and unbridled element in campaigns.

Mud-slinging is standard fare in presidential campaigns but is accelerated this year by the challenging party having its "presumptive nominee" determined so far before the general election.

A clever ad by Obama has Romney singing America, the Beautiful while headlines are flashed about his Swiss bank account and overseas investments. The ad concludes: "Mitt Romney's not the solution. He's the problem." Assorted fact-checkers have questioned that line of attack, and a Romney ad says: "When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?" Republican spending has Democrats worried. In an email fund-raising pitch Saturday, John Hagner, field director for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said:

"This week, Romney and the GOP outspent us by $7.7 million. "¦In the past 30 days, polls show Romney has eliminated President Obama's lead. "¦if Democrats don't pick up the pace now--101 days out--we're paving the road for a Romney administration. " Later Saturday, the DSCC cited a Mitchell Research July 25 poll that had Romney with a 45-44 lead over Obama in Michigan.

Scare tactics are standard strategy of political fund-raising but there's no question that the big bucks behind Romney are dominant factors in the presidential campaign.

In Michigan's GOP U.S Senate primary, ex-Congressman Pete Hoekstra and Detroit-area charter schools founder Clark Durant, both well-funded, are hammering away with attack ads in quest to be the nominee to challenge Debbie Stabenow's bid for a third term.

(The Detroit Free Press endorsed Durant, followed by endorsement of Hoekstra by The Detroit News, but each paper essentially indicated it was a close call and had good words about the other guy.) Durant, Hoekstra and ex-Kent County Probate Judge Randy Hekman, an obscure third contender in the Aug. 7 primary, agreed to a debate Thursday on Michigan Public Television's WKAR-TV "Off the Record" show, to be aired statewide Friday and Sunday at its regular times.

The show, moderated by senior Capitol correspondent Tim Skubick, for decades has been Debate Central of Michigan politics.

One memorable moment in the OTR studio at Michigan State University was in 1994 when Democratic Secretary of State Richard Austin, who held the office since 1971, lost it in a debate with Republican Candice Miller of Macomb County ,who won the office for two terms and now is in Congress.

One of the most extensive--and in my view questionable--political TV ad campaigns now on Michigan airways are the multimillion-dollar pitches by owners of the Ambassador Bridge who oppose Gov. Rick Snyder bid for a second bridge that essentially would be financed by Canada.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said last week of the ads: "They are operating with complete and total reckless disregard for truth." A truth squad would work up quite a sweat countering all the claims in the enormous barrage of ads by the Ambassador Bridge folks.

On Saturday, I watched the Olympics on a northern Michigan NBC affiliate that was replete with political ads. The one I thought most engaging and effective was by freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who was in dressed in white as the doctor that he is.

After citing his family background and assorted woes of the nation, he said career politicians can't solve them--"but a doctor can." Not exactly a compelling sell but welcome contrast to mud-slinging of late.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.