As we get closer to Election Day, for tight races that could determine control of the Senate, it's getting ugly out there.
Voters have reported getting scary-looking mailers in Kentucky and Iowa, two places where Republican hopes are high. The Kentucky mailer, which bears a disclosure that it was paid for by the state Republican party, is marked “ELECTION VIOLATION NOTICE,” with the warning, “You are at risk of acting on fraudulent information." The source of that allegedly fraudulent information? The campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The mailer accuses of "blatant lies intended solely to deceive Kentucky voters."
In a statement, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Dan Logsdon said, "After trying for 16 months to buy this election, Mitch McConnell and the out-of-state special interests that support him are now trying to steal Kentucky’s Senate seat using questionable and possibly illegal voter suppression tactics. The despicable mailers targeting Kentucky voters with misleading information are just another sign of Mitch McConnell's desperation as Kentuckians hold him accountable for his 30-year failed record in Washington."
Calls to Sen. McConnell's office were not immediately returned.
In Iowa, the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group campaigning against Democrat Bruce Braley's Senate candidacy, sent out a mailer reading "PUBLIC HEALTH ALERT" and warning of that "CHILDREN IN YOUR AREA ARE VULNERABLE TO A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT THAT CONTINUES UNCONTROLLED.” The mailer, which was first reported on by Buzzfeed, seems to play on fears of Ebola. But it turns out that the supposed health threat is Braley's support for abortion rights: "[B]oys and girls living peacefully in their mother's wombs." Braley voted against a Senate ban on abortion after 20 weeks.
Asked whether the mailer was intended to deter voters, Mallory Quigley, a spokesperson for the Susan B. Anthony List, told msnbc that abortion is "absolutely a public health issue" and that voters have a right to know where their candidates stand.
The Grimes campaign said Friday evening of the Republican party mailer that it "has filed for an immediate injunction to prevent McConnell from engaging in these unprecedented and shameful campaign tactics. We will also be asking both state and federal authorities to investigate what, on its face, appears to be a clear violation of both Kentucky and federal laws."
"To the extent that voters believe that they cannot or should not go to the polls on Election Day, that seems to me to be qualitatively different from the usual smear tactics that candidates take regarding their opponents' records," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in election law. Levinson said judges are often reluctant to restrict political speech, and suggested the suit was likelier to make a political point than result in an actual injunction.
About one quarter of black voters in Kentucky are disenfranchised because of a felony, triple the national rate.