The Two Sides of McCain’s South Carolina Campaign

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On Friday, John McCain told reporters on his campaign bus that he had issued a clear directive to his people about negative campaigning: “Don’t.”

His chief ally in the state, Sen. Lindsey Graham, elaborated. “You don’t need to tear anybody else down to get the votes for John McCain,” he said, as the bus approached Mt. Pleasant, S.C. “That’s the point. You can contrast your vote with theirs but you don’t need to tear anybody else down to get the vote for John McCain.”

Less than 24 hours later, a biting McCain campaign mail piece attacking Mitt Romney arrived in South Carolina mail boxes.

“Mitt Romney raised taxes by $700 million!” it blares.

“Romney provided taxpayer-funded abortions. Romney signed legislation in 2006 that increased funding for taxpayer-subsidized abortions.”

“Romney refused to endorse Bush Tax Cut Plan.”

“Romney fee increases led to ‘Taxachusetts.’ A survey of states grappling with spending crisis has found that Massachusetts imposed more fee hikes that (sic) any other state in the nation this year — at least $500 million.”

Note the typo. This is not a fair-and-balanced compare and contrast ad. This is an attack, in the grand tradition of Romney’s attacks against McCain in New Hampshire. The mail piece even includes a reference to RepealRomneyCare.org, which is a front organization put together by mostly pro-life leaders who oppose Romney. Just below the list of Romney’s faults are the words: “Paid for by John McCain.”

And so it begins.

UPDATE: Some of the claims made in this mail piece, about abortion and the $700 million in taxes, were made in an attack ad that Mike Huckabee kinda-sorta-almost ran in Iowa against Romney. (Huckabee officially pulled the ad at the last minute, though he showed it to reporters, and a few stations ran the ad before they got the memo.) The good people at Factcheck.org said both claims were misleading. See here for the analysis.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It occurs to me that I should point out the context for this sort of a mailer on the Republican side. McCain is by no means exceptional. Back in the spring, I found this flier in South Carolina from the moribund Duncan Hunter campaign. And Romney has had mailers dropping on South Carolina for weeks, many of which attack McCain and others with pretty misleading messages. Meanwhile, the Politico’s J. Martin got the McCain campaign to explain why they are suddenly attacking Romney via U.S. Post. In reference to a similar piece of mail dropped in Michigan, McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said, “We’ve been attacked enough times by Mitt Romney to justify getting out front to set the record straight.”

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