N.C. campaign ads: Wall of Shame 2008

North Carolina has long been home to offensive negative advertising in campaigns. Jesse Helms' “white hands” ad against Harvey Gantt in 1990 and Jim Hunt's Central American death squads ad against Helms in 1984 have been among the nation's worst.

This year is no exception. Here are our five most egregious political ads of the campaign, including one from the presidential race.

1. Heading the list is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole's “godless” ad, which began running this past week. The basis of the ad is her opponent state Sen. Kay Hagan's questionable decision to attend a Boston fundraiser sponsored by several dozen people, and co-hosted by two members of a group called Godless Americans PAC.

But Dole evoked memories of the campaign excesses for which her predecessor, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, was known with this TV ad. It ended with a picture of Hagan while a woman's voice said, “There is no God.” The attempt to paint Hagan, a church elder, volunteer and Sunday School teacher as a non-believer represents the very worst about American politics – and raises serious questions about Elizabeth Dole's judgment. Many North Carolinians who voted for Dole in 2002 thought they were electing a conservative who did not demonize her opponents or appeal to the basest instincts of voters. Like Helms, Elizabeth Dole likely will find that her mean-spirited “godless” ad will taint her reputation the rest of her days.

2. John McCain's sex education ad against Barack Obama said Obama's “one accomplishment” was “legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners. Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama – wrong on education, wrong for your family.”

There are at least three problems with that. Obama didn't sponsor or co-sponsor the bill. The bill never even got out of the state Senate. And the bill required that any sex education be age appropriate, and gave parents the ability to have their children opt out of the curriculum.

3. VoteVets.org ran an ad against Elizabeth Dole, saying she voted against funding body armor for U.S. troops in Iraq. An Army reservist says “The difference is life and death” and said “Senator Elizabeth Dole voted against giving our troops this.” This is offensive as well as false, playing on fears about our soldiers' lives and deaths with made-up assertions.

There was never such a vote. Neither of the two pieces of legislation that VoteVets.org cites mentions body armor. The Pentagon said at the time that it already had adequate money for body armor and that it was buying all there was to be had. The vote was for $1 billion for unspecified equipment, but body armor was not mentioned in the bill or on the floor. Separately, Dole supported a budget bill that provided $300 million that could have been used for body armor.

4. Bev Perdue ran an ad against Pat McCrory claiming “McCrory wants to let New York and New Jersey dump their garbage in North Carolina. Newspapers say we would become the garbage capital of the east coast. … Pat McCrory – don't let him dump on us.” The ad shows barges piled high with New York trash.

McCrory has never said anything of the kind. The ad refers to legislation McCrory opposed that would have banned certain landfills in eastern North Carolina. But the bill took authority away from local governments and placed new taxes on them, which is why the N.C. League of Municipalities and most mayors in the state opposed the legislation. To say that this shows McCrory “wants” to bring in New York's trash is more than a stretch.

5. An ad by the Republican Governors Association smacks Bev Perdue for being part of the status quo. It claims she presided over $6 billion in new taxes and as a result has cost the state 80,000 jobs that went to China.

But Perdue has been lieutenant governor the past eight years, not a state senator, and didn't vote on any new taxes. The only thing Perdue has voted on in the past eight years is the lottery, and the RGA knows it.

The ad ends by asking what Perdue plans to do about various problems and shows footage of her saying, “I would do exactly what's been done before.” In that clip, she was actually talking about offshore oil drilling, and the RGA took it completely out of context.

As these shameless ad show, it's tough for voters to know what's true and what's not. The best bet is to tune all that out and base your vote on the candidates' character, their records and their accomplishments.