Politics & Government

Voters say they're turned off by nasty Miami-area campaign

For the first time in his life, voter Fred Onesto purposely skipped over one of the contests on his ballot.

The 76-year-old Pembroke Pines retiree said he left the ballot blank in the race between Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and his Democratic challenger, Raul Martinez.

"I voted 'no one,' '' Onesto said, leaving the Southwest Regional Library on Thursday. "From what I've seen of their TV ads, I think they're both terrible.''

The slugfest between the Republican incumbent and the former Hialeah mayor -- a back-and-forth of nasty TV ads and mailers -- has sunk deeper into the mud, with Martinez holding a news conference Thursday to denounce the latest Diaz-Balart campaign ad.

The 30-second spot features Bill O'Connell, a former Hialeah cop, calling Martinez the ''most corrupt politician you will ever see in your life.'' But joined by former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos, Martinez called O'Connell ''disgruntled'' and accused him of trying to fraudulently secure disability benefits. O'Connell called the charge "ludicrous.''

The ads come as Diaz-Balart faces the toughest reelection challenge of his career, sparking both national parties to pour money into the race. Republicans began running a Spanish-language ad last week with a photo of Martinez superimposed over a truck dumping garbage.

For some voters, the tone of the campaign has been a turnoff.

''Instead of telling us what they'd do or what they stand for, they're just taking out each other's dirty laundry,'' said Patrick Joseph, 37, a small-business owner in Miramar. "It becomes humorous after a while 'cause you're like 'What are they going to say next?' ''

The new anti-Martinez ad comes on the heels of an anti-Diaz-Balart ad that talks about ''crooks, lobbyists and dirty deals'' and refers to Diaz-Balart being led away ''in handcuffs'' -- a reference to his 1995 arrest at the White House while protesting President Clinton's Cuba policy.

Some voters, though, said the ads wield little influence.

''All those ads and infomercials that attack people, I just ignore them,'' Demetrio Garcia said after voting for Martinez and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah. "They can say whatever they want about Martinez and Obama, but I'm a Democrat and I voted for the Democrats.''

Ana María Lopez, a teacher who voted for Obama and Diaz-Balart, said she, too, had mostly ignored the ads.

''I do not like negative politics,'' she said. "It's more helpful to the voter for the candidate to talk about what they intend to do to resolve problems, not attacking each other personally, because that only shows they want to fight each other.''

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also is running attack ads, attempting to link Democratic challenger Joe Garcia to the 2002 collapse of Enron by saying Garcia sought a federal appointment through the company's CEO, who was later disgraced. Garcia said he was approached by the CEO, who eventually blocked him from being named.

''It's outrageous that he's allowed to say anything he wants about me,'' Garcia said of the incumbent. Garcia's ads have mostly assailed Diaz-Balart's voting record and his support for President Bush.

Carlos Curbelo, a spokesman for both Diaz-Balarts, defended their ads as truthful.

''Everything is based on facts and reality,'' he said. "It's important for voters to know the histories and the resumes of the candidates and compare them.''

Ads on both sides, however, have stretched the truth. And largely lost in the din are the positive ads that every campaign has aired.

Blandel Witter, 42, a construction supervisor in Miramar and self-described ''C-Span guy,'' said he has done his own research.

''If you watch the ads, you don't want to vote for either one,'' he said.

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