by Cara Gardner

You've been hounded, haggled, tallied, polled and pitched. And now it's over -- until next time. While it may take a couple weeks for the billboard signs to come down, the bumper stickers to wear off and your neighbors to take their signs out of the yard, what will linger for much longer is the stench of money burned -- an astonishing $4 billion in total for this election year. That's about $33 million per state, and it doesn't include the cost of election lawyers, poll workers and ballot counters. What's worse, the majority of the loot was spent on those annoying TV ads.

"It's a disgrace," said Norman L. Smith, an 80-year-old World War II veteran, as he left his Post Falls polling precinct. "I'm so sick of this. This is the worst election I've voted in." He's been voting since 1948.

In fact, at the nine polling places we visited on Tuesday, we couldn't find anyone who wasn't repulsed by the onslaught of campaign advertising. "I've never seen so much garbage-slinging in all my life," muttered Richard McMichael, a retired deputy sheriff, after casting his ballot at Sinto Senior Center on the lower North Side of Spokane. "It's gotten to the point where I wouldn't vote for anyone if I didn't have to. I have a problem with what I call the critical spirit."

"I hate 'em," agreed Bob Critchfield, regarding the ads. "If they spent all that money on something constructive, we'd all be a lot better off. They just call each other names. I wasn't raised that way."

Everyone seems dismayed with negative campaign ads and they claim they don't even listen to the messages candidates send through the tube. "I don't believe in anything I hear on TV," said Bob Adcox, speaking after he voted in Post Falls. "Everyone is trying to spin things one way or another, so you take it with a grain of salt."

People say they hate the ads and aren't swayed by them. So why do candidates, political parties and special interest groups continue to spend so much airing them? Most of them believe the ads work -- especially the negative ones. But some studies show that the opposite is true -- that if an ad is seen as too negative or unnecessarily mean-spirited, it'll create a backlash.

"The attack ads I don't like. I abhor those. The one where they took Deborah Senn and raked her over the coals... that was terrible," said Paul McPherson, after voting in Valleyford in south Spokane County. He added that the ads swayed him against Republican Attorney General candidate Rob McKenna, who the ad was supposed to help.

David Bickler, also voting in Valleyford, agreed: "That Deborah Senn one, when they were, like, talking bad about her. It did affect my voting -- I didn't think it was fair, and I voted for her," he said.

Still, in the end, Senn lost.


In a bipartisan survey commissioned by the Project on Campaign Conduct, 59 percent of voters said that all or most candidates deliberately twist the truth, while 39 percent believe that all or most candidates deliberately lie to voters. A vast majority -- 87 percent -- are concerned about the level of personal attacks in today's political campaigns. Despite the lack of faith people have in candidates, more than half (57 percent) of those surveyed admitted that some negative information could be relevant and useful if it gave them information about the following issues:

- Talking one way and voting another

- Not paying taxes

- Accepting campaign contributions from special interests

- Current drug or alcohol abuse

- Voting records as elected officials.

Conversely, 63 percent said negative information that should be considered "out of bounds" pertained to

- Lack of military service

- Past personal financial problems

- Actions of candidate's family members

- Past drug or alcohol abuse.

Publication date: 11/04/04

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