By Alan Burke
CNHI News Service
SALEM, Mass. - If you can't say anything nice about somebody, you must be in politics.
Or so it seems as the November election approaches and voters are inundated by a blizzard of negative campaign ads, with often ugly charges and counter-charges, delivered via television, radio, phone, Internet, mail and street signs.
Woe to the self-image of the candidate who takes them too personally.
To test how these ads are received by voters I took to the streets of Salem, Mass., hometown to the 16th century witch hysteria and one of America's oldest communities.
The conclusion: most people don't like them much, but they aren't denying they listen to them. And, in many cases, the negative message has an impact.
"Unfortunately, negative ads do work," says Peter Maguire, a retired school principal. "People remember them."
He singles out one of the most contentious campaigns in Massachusetts, the battle between sitting Congressman John Tierney, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, former state Sen. Richard Tisei.
"I wish I could remember the good things that Tierney and Tisei have to say, but it seems all I remember is the negative," said Maguire.
Tisei has attacked Tierney over his wife's admission in federal court to helping her brother file false tax returns. The congressman has responded by linking Tisei to the Tea party -- not a popular movement in liberal Massachusetts -- and conservative Republicans Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.
"They're not getting to the message," Maguire said. "Neither is saying what they want to do. They seem to be intent on bringing each other down."
Jennifer Frye recently arrived in Salem from Utah. Even so, she made it clear she's not a supporter of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor and a Mormon with strong ties to Utah. Even so, a look of distaste crosses her face as she sighs, "The other night I saw an Obama commercial and it was pretty negative."