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Published: Wednesday, 7/26/2006

The mud flies early

FIVE years after the fact, images of the twin towers of the World Trade Center ablaze after the 9/11 terrorist attacks still register a powerful gut punch for most Americans. Thus it is no surprise that political candidates continue to exploit pictures of that awful day to help them stay in office.

President Bush employed 9/11 imagery shamelessly in his 2004 campaign, and that's why Sen. Mike DeWine is doing the same as the Ohio Republican runs for re-election this fall against U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown.

Unfortunately for Mr. DeWine, his ad blitzkrieg barely got off the runway when it was discovered that a photo used in a TV spot aimed at the Avon Democrat's voting record on defense had been altered. The misstep forced the DeWine camp to correct the ad and gave Mr. Brown an opening to run a response, charging deceit and distortion.

That view was only strengthened when it was revealed that the DeWine ad was produced by the same consultant that created the successful, but misleading, "Swift Boat" campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry two years ago.

In the netherworld of bare-knuckle politics, this is known as "defining" an opponent in the minds of voters before he can define himself. In this case, Mr. DeWine is seeking to paint Mr. Brown as "soft on terrorism" by isolating individual congressional votes.

In years past, this sort of tit-for-tat negative tactic was mainly a last-minute political tool. But here Ohioans are, more than three months out from Election Day, being forced to endure barrage after barrage of he-said/he-said ads.

Presumably, the candidates eventually will find something positive to advertise about their actual records, but the early onset of mudslinging in the Senate campaign bodes for a long and tiring election season for Buckeye State voters.

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