The Fix’s nastiest campaign of 2012

December 10, 2012

Campaigns can be nasty. Really nasty. A sharp debate jab here, an opposition research hit there, and all of a sudden even the most cordial contests can turn ugly. 

Today, we look back at the 2012 campaigns with the most combative tones and searing attacks as we award the Fixy – the coveted political awards that we, well, made up — for the nastiest contest of 2012.

One race stood out above all others: The showdown in Florida’s 18th District, where Democrat Patrick Murphy defeated Rep. Allen West (R) in a race that was nasty, brutish and long. 

West conceded to Murphy on Nov. 20 after a recount that added to the Democrat’s slim Election Day advantage. In so doing, he put an end to an expensive race punctuated by brutal attacks.

In late September, West released a rough ad hitting Murphy for a 2003 arrest outside a bar at the age of 19. (The case was ultimately dismissed.) The commercial sought to draw a sharp contrast between West’s preparation that same night for a combat deployment and Murphy’s run-in with the law. It even included a Murphy mug shot.

“Two men, a country in crisis. You decide,” said the narrator.

Murphy soon hit back with his own spot that sought to raise questions about West’s honorable discharge from the Army. “West was criminally charged with violating the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault and relieved of his command,” said the narrator of the Murphy spot, which West dismissed as desperate. 

The moderator of an October debate between the two men asked them both if they were willing to apologize to each other for the nasty tone of the campaign. Neither said they were sorry.

During the campaign, West’s tendency to stoke controversy with his words was the focus of a rough ad from the Democratic group House Majority PAC. Outside groups spent millions pummeling both candidates in this race, and West raised and spent eye-popping sums of his own. The Republican dished out nearly $18 million during the campaign, while Murphy spent $4 million, according to campaign finance reports.

Even after Election Day, the barbs kept flying. Murphy told the Huffington Post West never shook his hand during two years of campaigning, while the West campaign responded with photographic evidence to the contrary. 

The Fix posse picked a couple of campaigns deserving of honorable mention: 

* Berman versus Sherman in California’s 30th District: The intra-party member-versus-member races triggered by the decennial redistricting process were some of the roughest of the cycle. The battle for a San Fernando Valley district in which Rep. Brad Sherman (D) defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman by 21 points takes the cake for the nastiest of them all. Just take a look at this video below of an October debate in which the two literally got in each other’s face and Sherman asked Berman: “Do you want to get into this?”

That exchange was the most heated moment between the two, but far from the first or only time they clashed. Earlier in the race, Sherman looped Berman’s brother into a Federal Election Commission complaint. The campaign between the two Democrats even prompted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to wade in: Boxer decided to back Berman after taking issue with a Sherman campaign mailer.

* Arizona Senate race: Rep. Jeff Flake (R) defeated former surgeon general Richard Carmona (D) by less than five points in a race that ended up being tougher for the Republican than many observers had initially anticipated. And this contest became very nasty down the stretch. Flake unleashed a brutal ad in October featuring Carmona’s former boss alleging that he once pounded on her door in the middle of the night and has “issues with anger, with ethics, and with women.” Carmona denied the charges, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hit back at Flake with a spot featuring a woman who has battled breast cancer charging that the Republican “voted to let insurance companies kick women like me out of the hospital on the same day we had our breasts removed.”

(Don’t miss our picks for the biggest upset of 2012, the best and worst ads of the cycle, and best and worst candidates who ran for office.) 

 -- Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake contributed to this post 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · December 10, 2012