A sample of midday voters in Farmington universally hated this year’s onslaught of negative political ads, but that doesn’t mean the ads didn’t resonate. In fact, in many cases voters who said they didn’t like the ads then offered voting rationales that seemed to come straight from transcripts of the TV commercials.
Many of the ads aired this year have come from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, who over the last two election cycles has loaned her campaigns close to $100 million. McMahon has outspent Chris Murphy, her Democratic opponent, by about a 5-to-1 margin.
If you factor in independent expenditures made on behalf of Murphy, McMahon has still spent about twice as much. This included a few months during the campaign where the McMahon campaign’s advertising was unchallenged because the Murphy campaign lacked the funds to buy airtime.
The result has been a whole lot of television and radio ads, complemented by daily mailers arriving at the homes of many voters. In exit polling interviews Tuesday, voters made it clear they were sick of it.
“About Saturday I couldn’t take it anymore. When a political ad came on I shut the TV off. I don’t care who it was for,” Lynne Daniels said.
But the political messaging, particularly by McMahon, seems to have made an impression. In some of her more positive ads, McMahon has stressed that she would be the state’s first female senator and has not taken PAC money.
Daniels, an unaffiliated voter who’s self-employed, said she cast her ballot for McMahon. She said she liked that the candidate didn’t take any money from political action committees.
Edward Waterman also voted for McMahon and groaned at the mention of the ads. He joked that there was an upside to the hurricane that knocked out power to much of Connecticut last week.
“Too much [advertising]. It was almost nice to have that storm,” he said.
But Waterman, who said he voted to elect Murphy to his first term as his 5th District congressman over Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson, said it was now time for Connecticut to send a woman to the U.S. Senate.
Voters seem to have responded to McMahon’s negative ads as well. Her ads have frequently pointed to Murphy’s low attendance record at committee and subcommittee hearings, forcing the Murphy campaign to spend advertising dollars in an effort to push back on that message, touting his 97 percent attendance record for House votes.
John Wood, a retired unaffiliated voter, said he liked McMahon’s business experience. Asked about his impression of Murphy, Wood brought up the congressman’s attendance record.
“That’s not really impressive,” he said.
Cindy Casella, a Democrat who works at Farmington High School, said she also was fed up with the ads and the mailers. She joked that she could win a recycling contest with all the paper that’s come to her home.
“I’ve got something in the mail every day and more than one piece. Are you kidding me?” she asked.
Nevertheless, Casella, a Democrat, said she voted for McMahon. She said Murphy seemed like “a fake.”
“There’s a lot of things I don’t like about Chris Murphy. That’s why I voted for her,” she said. “… I just hope she doesn’t fight the Democrats on things that are important.”
Casella wasn’t the only Farmington Democrat who decided to split their ballot and vote for McMahon. Aileen Boucher, a Farmington Democrat and business owner, said she did the same.
McMahon’s messaging has framed Murphy as a career politician and McMahon as a Washington outsider. That resonated with Boucher.
“I like that Linda hasn’t been in politics for the past 12 years. Murphy hasn’t gotten much done,” she said.
A number of other McMahon ads have attempted to soften her image by telling her life story and pushing back against the Murphy campaign’s assertion she would be hostile to women’s reproductive rights. Those messages seem to have reached Boucher.
“She has a privileged life now but hasn’t in the past,” she said. “… I don’t buy that she’s not for women.”
Still Boucher was tired of the negative exchanges playing out over the airwaves, which she said contained too much “backstabbing” and focused too heavily on the shortcomings of one candidate rather than the positive aspects of another.
The McMahon campaign has made a concerted effort to get some Democrats to split their ticket. They ran a commercial featuring voters who said they planned to vote for both Democratic President Barack Obama and McMahon. More recently they’ve circulated door hangers with pictures of both McMahon and Obama, encouraging people to vote for both candidates.
Boucher said that’s what she did. While the Murphy campaign responded last week with an ad featuring Obama urging voters to cast ballots for Murphy, Boucher said it didn’t sway her vote.
“I’d already made my decision,” she said.
Not all Democrats at the Farmington polling place split their tickets. Harvey Dutil said he voted Democrat straight down the line.
“The whole Democratic Party is just more connected to the average-type person,” he said.
Of McMahon, Dutil said only that “she’s spent a lot of money. A lot of money.”
Voters aren’t the only ones who that money has been reaching all these months. Since the primary, the McMahon camp has stressed both in commercials and on the campaign trail that McMahon has a six-point jobs plan. Although Murphy has stressed his own jobs plan and said that his is one that evolves with input from constituents, McMahon commercials frequently alleged that he has no plan.
As Boucher was explaining her opposition to Murphy, her young daughter was following along with the conversation and chimed in, saying, “He hasn’t had a jobs plan.”
In 2010, Farmington voted for Richard Blumenthal over McMahon by just 308 votes. She was able to pick up 5,242 votes to his 5,550 votes, which includes his support on the Working Families Party line.
In West Hartford, where Blumenthal beat McMahon by more than 8,000 in 2010, voters seemed to favor Murphy over McMahon.
Janet Kendall of West Hartford, who posed for a picture with Murphy before heading into vote, said she thinks he deserves it.
“He’s a wonderful public servant,” she said.
Murphy, who has been crisscrossing the state visiting polling places from Stamford to New Haven to Torrington to Enfield, said he feels good about his chances.
Outside Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford, Murphy said there were big lines in New Haven and Waterbury, which bodes well for the Democratic candidate.
As a Democrat, Murphy’s stronghold in the more populous cities, while McMahon and Republican candidates are often left fighting for voters in the suburbs.
“We’ve been up against big dollars in this campaign, but ultimately I don’t think you can buy elections in this state,” Murphy said.
He said a woman handing out palm cards asking voters to vote for McMahon and Obama in New Haven told him she voted for him and then posed for a picture with him.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.