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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2010

A crass act

SO this is how Ohio's U.S. Senate campaign is unfolding. If it doesn't get off the low road where it started, Ohio voters face a long, dreary six months.

Soon after Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher won last week's Senate Democratic primary, the National Republican Senatorial Committee posted a sleazy anti-Fisher ad on its Web site, which quickly migrated to YouTube. It features an image of a tired, bare-chested Mr. Fisher hunched over a computer, lifted from a documentary his son made four years ago.

By adding cheesy music, sexually suggestive slogans, and manipulative camera tricks, the Republican ad suggests that the lieutenant governor of Ohio is masturbating. Not at all, GOP officials protest with manufactured umbrage. The ad actually portrays Mr. Fisher's inability to keep Ohio jobs from disappearing. Got it? Right.

John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, showed the video to his students and colleagues. The bipartisan consensus: tasteless and classless.

Because the ad did not come from the campaign of Mr. Fisher's Republican opponent, Rob Portman, the candidate had plausible deniability. Instead of immediately repudiating the offensive ad, though, the Portman campaign initially complained that Mr. Fisher went negative first and parroted the national GOP committee's allegations about Mr. Fisher's record on jobs. Mr. Portman later allowed that the ad was "in poor taste."

In response, the Ohio Democratic Party launched a video that features a gaggle of shirtless workers. It encourages Ohioans to send the "shirt off your back" to Mr. Portman, a former budget director and U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush. An announcement about the ad calls the GOP nominee "the architect of ... the failed economic policies of the Bush administration."

That assertion at least invites a debate that would be more substantive than anything in the anti-Fisher ad. But the presentation still doesn't do much to elevate the dignity of the Senate campaign.

The contest to succeed retiring Republican Sen. George Voinovich is attracting national attention. The campaign could be a sophisticated debate about issues and ideas that would respect the intelligence of Ohio voters and clearly define the policy differences between the candidates.

Instead, the campaign in its early days has become the venue for sniggering jokes appropriate to junior high school recess.

When will such cynicism end? When the candidates - both of them - agree it will, and say so unambiguously.



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