DES MOINES -- With no snow on the ground in this unseasonably warm state, the only blizzard Iowans are facing is the daily onslaught of negative political ads as they turn on their televisions, tune in their radios, or visit their mailboxes. They aren't safe when they pick up the phone or fire up their Internet connections either.
"Oh goodness," said Jill Jepsen, 57, a retired department store employee who lives in Oskaloosa and supports former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "I just don't listen to it. … It makes me sick."
But others are tuning in. And the primary victim is Mr. Gingrich, who became the whipping boy of the Republican presidential field as soon as he surged to the front of the pack last month. Mr. Gingrich's considerably long record and messy personal life have made him a juicy target. Now, his lead has shrunk, and he is clumped at the top of the polls with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
This year, traditional candidate-made ads have been buried under a barrage from independent "super PACs," established last year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed them. The amount of advertising is expected to reach record levels because super PACs can raise and spend unlimited cash.
Some think the ads have gotten not only more plentiful but also more brutal, although going negative on the eve of the first presidential nomination voting is as an Iowa tradition.
"Everyone can deplore negative advertising, but in pure Machiavellian end-justifies-the-means sense, they work," said Iowa political science professor Dennis Goldford.
The super PACs (political action committees), which raise money from corporations, unions, and individuals, are not permitted to coordinate with the campaigns.
In one 30-minute period Wednesday, it was possible to see half a dozen political spots -- either by candidates or super PACS -- mostly negative. An ad for Mr. Paul accused Mr. Gingrich of "serial hypocrisy," and an ad by Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that Mr. Gingrich "got rich" through ties to Freddie Mac and dismissed both Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney as political insiders.
Direct mail pieces attack Mr. Gingrich for a TV spot he made about global warming with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In one piece by Mr. Romney's allies, Santa Claus holds "Barack Obama's Christmas list" with one wish: "Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee for 2012. Please Santa!"
According to the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets Web site, the pro-Romney group Restore Our Future has spent $2.5 million attacking Mr. Gingrich, $1.4 million of it in the last week.
One ad analysis company, Kantar Media, said Iowa airwaves had been hit with more than 1,200 anti-Gingrich messages in recent weeks.
In a two-day swing through Iowa, Mr. Gingrich called on Mr. Romney to disavow the Restore Our Future ads. When Mr. Romney said he had no control over the super PAC, Mr. Gingrich called the statement "palpably misleading … and politics in its worst form."
He said the ultimate beneficiary of the attacks was Mr. Obama. Mr. Gingrich has lashed out at rivals in interviews but not in his ads.
On Wednesday, Mr. Romney refused to disavow the ads being churned out on his behalf. The race, he said, is toughening up candidates for the general election.
Mr. Gingrich's strategy of complaining to the media and airing only positive ads makes no sense to some.
"You have to respond to these things," said Kenneth Goldstein of Kantar's Campaign Media Analysis Group. "Complaining about negative advertising tends to not be a great strategy."
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