WASHINGTON – Campaign officials say the gloves are off in the 2nd District race for Congress.
Aides to Republican Helen Bentley and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger each accused the other campaign Friday of starting the attack ads and promised to respond in kind — with what they delicately called “contrast” ads.
Bentley spokesman Michael Kosmas said the campaign began running an ad Friday that focuses on Ruppersberger’s “imperial government” as Baltimore County Executive and his push to condemn Dundalk homes and build a waterfront community.
That ad will run for slightly over a week, and more negative ads are in the works, Kosmas said.
A spokesman for Ruppersberger’s campaign said Bentley can expect them to retaliate.
“Dutch will hit back,” said Rick Binetti, the spokesman. “For every ad they have, we’ll have just as many. If she hits Dutch negatively that will not go unresponded to.”
Frank DeFilippo, a political analyst for WBAL radio, said the negativity is not surprising and that it will likely get worse as the election nears. But, he said, “it could backfire” on both candidates if the ads become offensive.
“Negative advertising has a tendency to turn people off. It’s been proven and it could affect turnout,” DeFilippo said.
Bentley’s campaign said Ruppersberger started it with an ad, sponsored by the Maryland Democratic Party, that shows sludge coming out of a pipe and two children filling up a glass of water at a faucet. When the girl drinks the water, a graphic saying “Bentley Against Right to Know” flashes along the bottom of the screen.
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson said the ad legitimately points out that Bentley voted against a bill that would force companies to disclose their use of toxic chemicals. The ad also says that Bentley was on the League of Conservation Voters’ Dirty Dozen list.
Kosmas said the office debated whether “going into the gutter with Ruppersberger” would help Bentley, but that she has to fight back against “King Dutch” to be seen as a strong candidate.
“For the past three weeks, we’ve been running a positive campaign,” Kosmas said. “Now the empire strikes back as they say. You have to fight fire with fire.”
He said Bentley’s first television spot shows homes that would have been condemned had the Dundalk bill not been defeated on referendum, while the narrator says Ruppersberger called the houses “slums.”
“He knows better what’s best for the community than the community does,” Kosmas said. “Do you really want a congressman who calls your house a slum?”
Kosmas said the campaign also expects to aattack Ruppersberger over the expansion of the county jail in Towson.
While Ruppersberger will strike back, Binetti said their ads would focus on Bentley’s voting record and issue differences rather than personal attacks.
“She’s going to attack character because that’s all she’s got,” Binetti said of Bentley. “Her back’s against the wall.”
Kosmas disagreed and said Ruppersberger uses negative advertising because he has no record to run on whereas Bentley held the same seat from 1984 to 1994.
“Dutch doesn’t have a record,” Kosmas said. “They’re distorting Helen’s. What are they going to talk about? He thinks he’s emperor over there in Towson. He’s running an imperial campaign just as he runs an imperial government.”
But DeFilippo said the Ruppersberger campaign will be forced to retaliate and the candidates would sling mud back and forth until Nov. 5.
“He’s nip. She’s tuck. They’ll just pound on each other,” DeFilippo said. “They’ll try to say the most negative stuff in the last two or three days of the campaign so the other side doesn’t have a chance to respond.”