Pa. voters under assault: Ads from 3 states and stacks of mail every day

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker journeys across America talking with voters to get to the heart of this volatile moment in American politics.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 11:56 AM

Seven days. Seven states. In the final week of the campaign, Philip Rucker makes a mad dash across America listening to what voters have to say.

UPPER DARBY, PA. - Flip on the 6 o'clock local news here and you'll see a dizzying onslaught of scary ads: Charlie Dent is plotting to raise your sales tax. Bryan Lentz takes free cars on the public dime. Mike Fitzpatrick wants to ship your jobs to Honduras and Bahrain. Pat Toomey wants a special trade deal for China. And Joe Sestak loves wasting your money and wants terrorists tried in your back yard.

Go check your mailbox and you'll find a stack of glossy fliers with similarly alarmist assertions.

"It stinks," said Joe DiGregorio, 63, as he stood on his damp front porch here, a Toomey campaign door-knob brochure, crumpled up and soggy, stashed behind a stack of fire logs. "Instead of telling us what you'll do for us, you're telling us what the other guy didn't do for us, and he's telling us what you didn't do for us. It's useless."

Pity the southeastern Pennsylvania voter. With the midterm elections less than one week away, the Philadelphia area has been besieged with one of the nation's heaviest television advertising barrages. Because neighboring parts of Delaware and New Jersey fall under the Philadelphia media market, folks here have been subjected to ads from politicians running for office in those states, too.

During the 6 p.m. news on the local NBC affiliate Wednesday, 16 political ads aired in a 30-minute span, the vast majority of them negative. The spots run in a relentless rotation, transitioning jarringly from one to the next, deep scary voice to deep scary voice.

Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 20, more than $19 million worth of political advertising has aired in the Philadelphia market, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware, alone has spent more than $770,000 on ads here.

And yet:

"I can't recall any of the ads," said diesel mechanic Chris Labelle, 27, at his front door, as a big-screen television played in the background. "I really don't care. It makes me want to vote less. I'll still vote, but I'll just go up and pick one."

His neighbors along leafy Sellers Avenue in the working-class township of Upper Darby, just across the Philadelphia line, agreed. At front door after front door, people interviewed here Wednesday afternoon said they simply ignored the ads.

"The great thing about a remote is if you're sick and tired of seeing these ads for these political people, after the 10th, 20th, 30th time you can't watch it anymore, you change the channel," said Mike, 65, a retired aircraft mechanic who declined to give his surname.

"After a while you can't tell truth from fiction," he added from his sunroom, a rolled-up American flag leaning in the corner. "It turns you into a cynic because you don't know what to believe."

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