Bishop and Altschuler trade attack ads

Opponents Tim Bishop and Randy Altschuler

Opponents Tim Bishop and Randy Altschuler (Credit: Newsday)

The rematch between Rep. Tim Bishop and Republican Randy Altschuler is sparking a heated ad war as the candidates ready for what's expected to be another tight election.

Altschuler, a St. James businessman, touts his "10-point jobs plan," while incumbent Bishop (D-Southampton) promises to fight corporate outsourcing. Both pepper each other with attack ads set to ominous musical scores.

This summer, Altschuler produced spots to reintroduce himself after his 593-vote loss to Bishop in 2010, highlighting his upbringing by a single mother.

Much of Bishop's television campaign has focused on his opponent's former business services firm, OfficeTiger, which kept most of its jobs overseas before Altschuler and a partner sold it for $250 million.

The ad campaigns have intensified in the last two weeks, as Bishop made the risky move of posting ads that raise an ethics controversy that Altschuler has tried to hammer him with.

"I'm Tim Bishop," the five-term congressman begins in an ad that debuted last week. "And now, my opponent Randy Altschuler says I'm a criminal."

He continues, in a direct plea: "You know me. And you know for Randy Altschuler to say that is just despicable."

The message responds to an Altschuler ad that suggested Bishop may have violated House ethics rules, and accuses him of "trying to cover up a scandal."

The Republican's spot refers to news reports that Bishop in May agreed to help a Southampton constituent obtain a fireworks permit for his son's bar mitzvah. Before the matter was resolved, Bishop's campaign contacted the property owner about a donation.

Bishop has denied breaching House ethics rules banning acceptance of contributions tied to official actions. He said his campaign was simply following up on the constituent's expressed interest in donating.

In his August ad, Altschuler quoted the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as saying Bishop's action could be a "federal crime" involving pay to play.

Bishop cites that allegation in accusing Altschuler of calling him a criminal -- which Altschuler denies doing.

"We responded to the outrageous . . . ad put on air by Randy Altschuler because people know Representative Bishop," said Bishop campaign spokesman Robert Pierce. "They know he has conducted his entire adult life with integrity, and they know outsourcer Randy Altschuler will stoop to any low to try to [ensure] his extreme tea party views have another voice in Congress."

Altschuler insists that OfficeTiger's foreign jobs didn't come at the expense of U.S. positions. He says Bishop's new ad shows that outsourcing attacks haven't distracted voters from Bishop's ethics issues.

"I think it's an admission by him that he's in trouble," Chris Russell, an Altschuler spokesman, said of Bishop's response ad. "No politician does an ad like that unless they feel they're being hurt."

Erika Franklin Fowler, director of Wesleyan University's Media Project on political advertising, said some research shows that response spots like Bishop's can have a "paradoxical" effect, focusing viewers on the original charge.

"I would say you certainly wouldn't want to repeat claims you'd like citizens to forget," she said.

But Dhavan Shah, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Mass Communication Research Center, said that despite the risk, ads such as Bishop's can potentially turn the tables.

"If done correctly, they can be helpful in mobilizing your base and can help frame your opponent in a way that calls into question not the substance of the attack, but rather the opponent's motives," Shah said.

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