Analysts Discuss Campaign Ads, Gay Marriage, Iraq

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off tonight.

Mark, do you agree with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, that 10 days go, these negative ads will be pulled, and we'll go back to positive advocacy advertising?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I'm not sure. I'm don't think either side really wants to unilaterally disarm in a situation like this.

JIM LEHRER: And that's what it is?

MARK SHIELDS: That's really what it is. And, you know, there's an old line that, when you run out of political ammunition, the rusty artillery of abuse is wheeled out. And I think that's what we're seeing.

The Harold Ford thing I find the most fascinating. I've never seen an ad where paternity was denied by so many people and such humility of authorship. "I didn't do it." "No, I didn't do it." Somehow the Republican National Committee authorized it, the money was found to put it on, but nobody could get it off. The candidate didn't like it; the RNC didn't like it, but they continued to run it.

I think, in Harold Ford's case, Jim, listen, it puts an obligation upon him to address it, simply…

JIM LEHRER: Which he did.

MARK SHIELDS: I think I'd almost go further than that and say, "They think you're dumb. This is Washington. This is a Washington ad. It was done by the same people who did the Swift Boat. They'd never say that, but I mean — they think the people of Tennessee are really dumb, and I don't think you are." I think he's got to almost make a challenge to the electorate of Tennessee.

JIM LEHRER: Rich Lowry, what do you think of that, the Tennessee ad and the context in which it was run?

RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Well, first of all, on the negativity, if top Republican strategists have their way, Republican candidates will not be closing positive this year. They'll stay negative.

Because, look, it's a sour mood out there. People aren't particularly happy with Republican governance. It's not a "morning again in America" type of time, as it was in 1984 when Reagan was running for re-election. So they want the contrast with Democrats. They want to do everything they can to discredit the Democrats as an alternative.

The Tennessee ad, I think, was very effective. I don't think it had anything to do with race. I think, as Kathleen Hall Jamieson pointed out in Ford's response, it had to do with God and church, because Harold Ford has been running a brilliant, almost flawless campaign in Tennessee, partly based on the idea that he's a choir boy who wants to do nothing else but be in those church pews.

And the Republicans wanted to get him talking about going to a Playboy party, which is not a big sin in the scheme of things, but it complicates his message. And he has had to address it now. He has been on the defensive responding to an ad which is never a good thing in a campaign.