You can't miss them, and political junkies can't resist them: the all-too-common attack ads before election day. But in the campaign commercial back-and-forth between GOP gubernatorial candidates Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both sides have stayed only subtly negative. At least so far.
Neither campaign mentioned the other by name in the first ads of the primary season, which began airing last November. But now that the March 2 election is drawing near, all eyes are on those few minutes of space between programming.
"Once you go negative, you can't go back," said St. Edwards University political scientist Brian W. Smith.
Perry's opening salvo hinted at Hutchison with comparisons to an alternatively do-nothing or overbearing Washington while showing a grainy, undersaturated image of the senator in a few frames. Hutchison has opted for policy-focused spots — her first commercial focused only on healthcare, and her latest focuses solely on transportation issues while visually jabbing Perry.
In this argue-everything campaign cycle, even what constitutes an attack ad is grounds for debate. The Hutchison campaign contends the Perry campaign hit her first.
"[Perry's] first ad out of the gate was an attack," said Hutchison Communications Director Jennifer Baker.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner responded by saying that for that ad to be considered an attack would require Hutchison to accept that she is, indeed, "Washington", which the Perry campaign "would be fine with."
On Sunday, a new commercial from the Hutchison campaign, again hitting Perry on transportation, caused a fresh flare up. Hutchison released the commercial but did not alert the press about it with background sourcing and a link to watch it. It's become customary for the campaigns to extend the courtesy, so the Perry campaign pointed out the Hutchison campaign's omission.
“Senator Hutchison has once again resorted to lying with her latest false and misleading television advertisement,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner, in a statement. “This time her campaign didn't even bother to provide the public with facts, because there are none."
This back-and-forth — over the air and behind-the-scenes — has only just begun. Smith says once the cycle of traditional attack-style ads begins, it's hard to return to more peaceful posturing.
"If you get punched in the nose, you have to punch back," said Smith.