Accentuating the Negative

They were called "roarbacks," those last-minute campaign charges of doubtful validity and howling viciousness that were so common in 19th century American politics. In this more enlightened age of television and marketing, the term has been forgotten, but the tactic endures. Indeed, negative political advertising seems to be growing, and getting meaner, in the closing weeks of this year's campaign.

Mudslinging has become an issue in itself in the Massachusetts congressional race between Republican Margaret Heckler and Democrat Barney Frank, two incumbents who face each other as a result of redistricting. Among $220,000 worth of Heckler television commercials that hit the air...

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