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Ohio State House up for grabs; Campaign ads get nasty

For the first time since 1994 Democrats have a chance to take control of the State House of Representatives. Right now Republicans hold a slim majority and Democrats need only four seats to re-gain the House. With control of the House comes many perks like choosing the speaker, outlining the budgets and laying down the agenda. With all that's at stake district races have become very competitive and some have become down right nasty. WOSU takes a look at two of those: Districts 20 and 22.

Howling wolves, wicked witches, sharks, snakes and radiation suits. What do all these have in common? Yes, they are all great Halloween costumes, but they'll also components of negative campaign ads flooding televisions and mailboxes in the 20th and 22nd State House districts.

"I do remember that shark mailer now. I would just rather read the facts."

That's Stephanie Stoppenhagen from Dublin. She lives in the 22nd district where Republican Michael Keenan, a Dublin City Council member, and Democrat John Carney, an attorney from Clintonville, are vying for an open House seat. Stoppenhagen said she's been inundated with campaign ads, many of them negative.

"We have been getting a lot of mailers in the mail. I have not been paying a lot of attention to them. I've just, there have been so many that I kind of I'm just I'm reading the news more than paying attention to the mailers and sorting it out that way," Stopphenhagen said.

Joan Call also lives in Dublin. Call said she's disgusted with all the negative ads.

"You know I can't say it's affecting my decision. It's just making me sick with the whole process," Call said.

But some voters, like William McLoughlin of Columbus, are affected by the negative ads and will take them into account when they cast their ballot on Tuesday.

"They sway me away from the people who are using them," McLoughlin said.

In most cases it's not the candidate themselves sending out the negative ads; it's organizations which support them. The Ohio Republican Party is one of the groups sending negative mailers. House Republicans chief strategist Scott Borgemenke said studies show voters remember negative ads more often than positive ones.

"Negative ads, or comparative ads, they tend to have more detail to them. They tend to be a little more cutting. They tend to cut through the clutter a little more," Borgemenke.

And because campaign mailers, for example, have a lifespan of about seven seconds, Borgemenke said they have to be creative and catchy.

One of the ads sent out by the House Republicans attacks 20th district candidate democrat Nancy Garland. The brightly-colored ad is Wizard of Oz themed with an unflattering picture of Garland, not the movie's heroine, on the front cover. The ad calls Garland a "wicked lobbyist from the west."

Borgemenke said ads like those target the undecided and independent voter.

"People say negative campaign ads and attack ads are insulting. They're not insulting. What they are is they're feeding to the people who don't go out and consume the information on their own. With websites, everybody's got a website with platforms, those are all positive. If people start going to those information sources to make an informed decision they won't be persuaded by our commercials, their commercials," he said.

Borgemenke admits negative ads can go too far, but he said as long as the statements in them are factual, they're fair. He estimates the House Republicans have spent about $150,000 on the ads.

Republicans are not the only ones sending out negative mailers. A coalition of labor unions called the Campaign for the Moderate Majority is going after Republican Candidates.

One of their ads attacks Dublin House candidate Keenan for his role as a Dublin Arts Council member. The brightly yellow ad has a large ear of corn on it that states "it's time to give Michael Keenan an earful.'" The mailer mocks Keenan's support of Dublin's Field of Corn art piece which the coalition calls wasteful spending.

The groups's Gloria Fauss said the ad is fair.

"I don't think there is anything that we have sent out that does not in fact focus on some decision they've made in the public policy arena or some position that they have announced," Fauss said.

Michael Keenan said that's wrong. He said he was not on the council when it commissioned the field of cement corn. Keenan said he is distressed by all of the negative campaigning because they do not focus on the issues or his experience.

"It was really totally misrepresented what was going on. I guess I've learned over the last many months that it really doesn't matter what's in those brochures," he said.

Despite Keenan's distaste for negative campaigning, House Republicans are going after his opponent. One mailer shows Carney in a shark's fin on his head. Another mailer refers him to a snake. The ads accuse the attorney Carney of defending "a doctor who exposed himself to a female patient" and other "dangerous doctors." Keenan said as long as the ads' statements can be documented they're fair.

"Those are factual in terms of he has represented those people. Is that right? I don't like it and I've said it from day one and in various interviews. You know, it's just not, just not appropriate," Keenan said.

Carney calls the mailers deplorable. He said he is not a trial lawyer and he only assisted his partner who represented the doctors. Carney said it's the voters who suffer. "They don't care about this stuff. But unfortunately when candidates are put in a situation where they are losing it appears that they are willing to say anything at all to try to bring down the numbers of their opponent and it's shameful I think," Carney said.

Carney said when he heard the corn ad about his opponent was not factual; he said he wanted it to cease circulation.

"When I found this out (I) went to the Democratic Caucus and said I want these ads to stop. Can you assist me in making them stop? And they advised me that it would be illegal for me to have any contact with this organization," Carney said.

Democratic House candidate Nancy Garland said some of the negative ads about her have been troubling. But she said there's an upside. She's said now people recognize her and know her name.

"I go to the hair salon and I had a woman that said to me are you the woman in the ad? And I said, uh, yeah. And she said, well, you're much better looking in person. And so she asks, are you a Democrat or a Republican? And I said I'm a Democrat. She says, you got my vote!," Garland said.

Garland's opponent incumbent State Rep. Jim McGregor said he vowed not to do any negative campaigning. He said he has found many of the ads, even the one with him superimposed in a radiation suit, comical. And McGregor called the one referring to Garland as a witch "outrageous."

"It was very poorly done, very stupid brochure. You know it says somewhere over the rainbow, and you know, maybe she has a dog named Toto, well the heroine had a dog named Toto, not the bad people. So it was just a stupid brochure," McGregor said.

Stupid or not, vicious negative ads are hear to stay, because political consultant Dale Butland said they are effective.

"There's only one group who can stop negative advertising and that's the voters. Only one reason the politicians use it is because it works. If it stops working they will stop using it. It's just that simple," he said.