N.H. Is Already Flooded With Attack Ads

By Matthew Mosk and John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 4, 2008

Computerized phone calls noting that Sen. John McCain hasn't signed a pledge not to raise taxes. Hundreds of thousands of glossy union mailers using an image of two Band-Aids to illustrate the flaws in Sen. Barack Obama's health-care plan. And personal calls to homes assailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for disguising her abortion-rights record.

As the 2008 presidential candidates make their quick pivot into New Hampshire today, residents there are already being inundated with negative messages from campaigns and outside groups hoping to sway the primary's outcome. The atmosphere promises to be more intense than in Iowa, with highly charged rhetoric from labor unions and other outside political groups jamming mailboxes and phone lines.

Unions and outside groups have reported spending more than $4 million over the past two months, emboldened by a recent Supreme Court decision overturning a section of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance act meant to curtail union and corporate sponsorship of issue ads during the tense final weeks of a campaign.

Candidates are also becoming more combative. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who lost his lead in the Republican race in recent days to McCain (Ariz.) and is using his personal fortune to help finance his campaign, has organized telephone calls declaring that McCain "is against repealing the death tax," twice voted against President Bush's tax cuts and "repeatedly refused to sign a no-new-tax pledge."

"That is not the kind of leadership we want in the White House," the recorded calls state.

Under the tightly compressed campaign schedule, in which even the best-financed candidates are stretching to compete in dozens of contests before Feb. 5, the added messages from outside groups are intended to make a big difference.

"We understand it's very difficult for the candidates to play in all these states, and yet we have members in all those places," said Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has already sent thousands of mailers in New Hampshire supporting Clinton (D-N.Y.). "There's no question the labor activity is going to prove to be very important."

The teachers union has joined with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the political group Emily's List to mount one of the most aggressive drives in New Hampshire, with mailers and radio ads echoing Clinton's campaign message.

One flyer from the teachers group calls Clinton "ready to deliver change -- from Day 1." An AFSCME mailer says her health-care plan is "born of experience." And mail from Emily's List calls her a "tested and proven" leader. AFSCME political director Larry Scanlon said the union will shift 70 to 80 staff members from Iowa to New Hampshire to help with door-knocking and organizational efforts.

Outside groups are not permitted to coordinate or even discuss their efforts with the campaigns. But close ties between a former adviser to Democrat John Edwards and another labor-sponsored group, the Alliance for a New America, prompted Obama (D-Ill.) to raise the issue on the stump.

The group, financed by wealthy individuals and several local chapters of the Service Employees International Union, has flooded New Hampshire with flyers promoting Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina. Obama's campaign compared the effort to interventions by "special interest" groups, provoking a backlash from the unions.

McElroy said he "took umbrage" at the comparison. "Our members have as much a right as Oprah Winfrey does to participate in the process," he said. (Winfrey has campaigned for Obama.)

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