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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Ads Attack Wasteful Spending, Integrity In Senate District 31

Jillian Olivas |
October 15, 2012 | 5:47 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


Assemblyman Jeff Miller and Gen. Richard Roth are competing for a seat in California's state senate in District 31. (Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)
Assemblyman Jeff Miller and Gen. Richard Roth are competing for a seat in California's state senate in District 31. (Dawn Megli/Neon Tommy)

Attack ads are on the rise as the race for state Senate District 31 tightens.

Assemblyman Jeff Miller and Gen. Richard Roth are campaigning for election to California Senate in District 31. The district includes areas in Riverside, Corona and Moreno Valley.

This state senate election is particularly crucial to California this year. If Roth wins, Democrats will have one of the two seats they need to have a supermajority in the Senate, which would give them enough votes to bypass Republicans on issues including taxes and overturning the governor's vetoes. 

Since the race has such important consequences, both candidates have turned to television ads as a way of promoting themselves and attracting voters.

John Zaller, a professor of political science at UCLA, said that political ads do, in fact, have the power to change the way people vote. They are among the most accessible and memorable messages candidates can supply to the electorate.

"Some negative ads are effective and some positive ads are effective," Zaller said. "You can't generalize that positive ads are more effective than negative ads or that negative ads are more effective than positive ads."

While the political ads began in May on a positive note, focusing on the candidates themselves and their visions for California, recently, the ads have taken a more negative turn. 

Since September, both campaigns have broadcasted ads attacking the opponent on issues such as wasteful spending and personal integrity. 

Miller released an ad attacking Roth's support for the high-speed rail project, calling it "reckless." The ad depicts Roth standing in front of a rendition of the train while dollar bills rain down from the sky. Miller, like most Republicans, opposes the plan for the bullet train that is expected to eventually cost taxpayers more than $100 billion to fully build. 

The ad also features Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, endorsing Miller. Coupal claims that Roth will be a "puppet" for politicians in Sacramento and warns against his "dirty campaigning." However, no specifics or sources were cited in the ad to support those claims.

Roth, for his part, focused his attack ad on what he claims is Miller's irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.

The ad opens with a reference to one of Miller's campaign slogans, "It's Miller time," and shows Miller holding a red plastic cup, alluding to the slogan of the beer of the same name. The ad also accuses Miller of spending $47,000 of taxpayer money on an SUV and claims that he received the highest legislative pay in America. 

However, the ad's claim that Miller received the highest pay is inaccurate. Information provided by California's State Assembly website lists his salary at $95,291, which is the same amount as 75 other assembly members. The other four members were paid salaries in excess of $100,000. Even though Miller is not the highest paid individual, legislators in California are the highest paid legislators of any state. 

A candidate's decision to execute a negative ad tends to reflect the material that the opposing candidate has to work with.

"If a candidate has a weakness and the other candidate can exploit that then that might cause them to go negative," Zaller said.

The decision to air a negative ad could end up hurting Miller more than Roth, as Miller has occupied elected office before.

"Incumbents tend to stay positive," Zaller said. "If everything stays the same they'll probably get elected again. They don't want to do anything that might shake up the race."


Read more of Neon Tommy's Politically Correct series here.

Reach Staff Reporter Jillian Olivas here



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