Will Sexual Harassment Attacks Sway Tennessee Voters In Testy U.S. Senate Race? | Nashville Public Radio

Will Sexual Harassment Attacks Sway Tennessee Voters In Testy U.S. Senate Race?

Oct 12, 2018

With less than a month until the midterm elections, the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee is intensifying and attack ads are increasing.

One of the latest attacks came from the National Republican Senate Committee, a group that supports Marsha Blackburn.

"It's shameful. Deceitful. Buried. Sexual harassment. Powerful men protecting other powerful men," the one-minute ad says. "Like Phil Bredesen, aka 'Shredesen.'" 

Ann Crigler is a political science professor at the University of Southern California. She says the ad is pretty effective. 

“When I saw Shredesen I said, ‘Oh, that’s really rough because that’s going to stick',” Crigle said. "It’s a clever name, it captures in one word what they are accusing Bredesen of doing.”

The Blackburn campaign claims that when Bredesen was governor, he covered up sexual harassment allegations against an aide. Fact-checkers have rated the claims as “half true.”

The Bredesen campaign has pushed back with an ad featuring four women who worked for him, including Gina Lodge, the former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services. 

“Marsha Blackburn’s attack ad is just a lie. Another lie. Phil Bredesen has always had a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment," the women say in the ad

Could The Attack Pursuade Voters?

The pro-Blackburn spot is dark and has some dramatic music. Those elements are typical in these types of attacks. But Kathleen Searles, an expert in emotional political ads at Louisiana State University, says the ad has something she considers fascinating — a female narrator.

“It suggests to me that the Republican Party, or at least elements in that party or at least this campaign specifically, are thinking seriously about how to weaponize women's anger in a campaign context," Searles said. 

She says it has the potential to work on undecided voters, but there is a risk that the ad could backfire.

“In October, if you have already picked your preferred candidate and you are exposed to a lot of extremely negative ads, there is a chance that you will be demobilized.”

But in this polarized political climate, she says one group that it will not work on is Democratic women.