South Carolina Mud (posted February 16, 2000)

With the South Carolina Republican primary coming up this Saturday, Feb. 19, the mud is flying in multiple technologies. The weapon of choice still is television ads. George W. Bush and John McCain are estimated to be spending more than $1 million in ads this week alone in South Carolina. Bush's ads attempt to portray McCain as a hypocritical reformer who is not a real conservative nor a reliable Republican. McCain initially sought to portray Bush as a politician like Bill Clinton who should not be trusted. When that backfired and started to make McCain look like just another politician, he suspended his television attack ads and now is running mainly positive commercials.

Below the radar, however, are leaflets, direct mail letters, Internet appeals, and phone bank operations that are delivering highly targeted and hard-hitting messages on South Carolina voters. Right-to-life organizations upset with McCain's position on campaign finance reform are spreading leaflets touting Bush and complaining about McCain. The Smoker's Alliance also is telling anyone who will listen that McCain's position on tobacco reform is ill-advised. So-called "push-polls" are raising doubts about McCain's fitness for office. South Carolina will be a major test of McCain's theory as to whether backing off negative attacks in the last week of a contested campaign plays well with voters.