From, as we now snappily call the Washington Post, WaPo:
Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.
Good. Let them. And then, Democratic candidates and campaign directors and ad people, do this in your own tv ads:
Grab a few seconds of these ads, these manifestations of Republican desperation and hypocrisy, and use them in your own spots. Put a graphic frame around them, shrink them to an inset window, and say, "This is what they're reduced to. Almost 3,000 dead in Iraq, the Taliban making record profits on heroin, gas prices through the roof, the health care system an international joke, America the object of loathing and mistrust around the world exactly when we need the co-operation of civilians everywhere...and this is all they give you." Et damn cetera. "Hundreds of billions of dollars unaccounted for. New Orleans still a disaster area a year later. Al Qaeda metastasizing. Demonstrably false propaganda on ABC." It writes itself.
Let them (you can't stop them anyway) slime you, and then co-opt the slime.
Don't ignore it. Don't decline-to-dignify-it-with-a-response. Don't "rise above it." Don't refuse-to-acknowledge-it-because-we're-better-than-that. (We are better than that--and, in fact, they're actually even worse than that. Lies, avoiding-the-subject, and character assassination are all they have.)
Show it in order to neutralize it. Point to it in order to de-legitimize it.
Acknowledge its existence and tell the viewer--with just the right combination of disgust and regret--how low the GOP has fallen. Take control of their imagery. Graphically and verbally hold it out like the repellent excrescence that it is, label it as such, and then make your pitch.
What? Questions? Please.
"Isn't that letting them dictate the terms of the election and the campaign?"
That's the wrong way to look at it. When your house is on fire, the fire "dictates the terms" of what you do. First put out the fire. Then go about your business.
"What about presenting a positive message?"
The two (co-opting the smear vs. presenting a positive message) are not mutually exclusive. Do both. In a thirty-second spot, spend fifteen quoting, showing, and re-defining their slime-a-thon. Make their desperation and mendacity a "news item" by tying their local jerk to the national disaster, e.g., "THIS is what Republican John Schmuck is saying about Steve Democrat. As usual. Why? Because Schmuck and his Republican allies have nothing else to tell you and everything to hide. Do you believe this crap?"
Then spend fifteen seconds presenting something better.
Besides, even if you spent all thirty seconds neutralizing their attack, wouldn't that help? Wouldn't that equal a gain?
"But, jeez, Ellis, are voters smart enough, or at least un-cynical enough, to 'get it'? Doesn't your suggestion assume, when we appeal to the viewers' standard of quality in political discourse, that they have one?"
Don't you anyway? Why else advertise on tv?
Besides, this is not a rational process. You're not making a pitch appealing to reason, logic, and cognition. You're neutralizing their emotional pitch with a counter-emotional demonstration in pictures, words, and attitude.
By showing a clip of their ad against you, you're demonstrating (implicitly, non-verbally), "This is so pathetic, we're not afraid of showing it in our ad. This is so far gone, so false and defamatory and desperate, we're willing to let you see it again, because it's news. It's news that the Republicans are reduced to something this contemptible. It's news that this is what they think (or at least hope) will convince you to keep them in office. Oh, and it's news that this is all they have to say, because the reality for which they're responsible is so indefensible and 'fucked-up.'"
"But does that mean we have to just sit around and wait until they make their ads before we get to make ours?"
What kind of a question is that? Do I have to do everything around here? No, you don't. Make your positive, uplifting, etc., ads now. Just be ready to co-opt and neutralize theirs when they start.
"But is it legal? Using their ad footage?"
I have no idea. I'm not a lawyer, although I do watch them on tv. But doesn't "fair use" apply? Does it matter that your campaign is a non-profit? Consult legal counsel. (It might be worth it even if it is illegal. Tie them up with protests and litigation.)
"But...well, okay, then. Thanks!"
Don't mention it.