Democrat Jeff Merkley has proposed a total of eight debates with Republican Sen. Gordon Smith around the state, including one in Medford. The two candidates should settle on when and where they will debate and get on with it. Anything would be better than the back-and-forth sniping and distortion in ads aired by both campaigns and their surrogates.

Democrat Jeff Merkley has proposed a total of eight debates with Republican Sen. Gordon Smith around the state, including one in Medford. The two candidates should settle on when and where they will debate and get on with it. Anything would be better than the back-and-forth sniping and distortion in ads aired by both campaigns and their surrogates.

One recent refrain from the Merkley camp blasts Smith for running "the most negative campaign in the country."

That depends on how you quantify "negative," but Smith's television ads certainly take aim at Merkley. The most recent accuses him of having "voted for higher taxes 44 times over 10 years" — a dubious claim at best and one that makes creative use of numbers, such as accusing Merkley of voting four times to raise gas taxes, when all four votes were on the same bill. The "44 times" also include votes against new tax breaks, which is not quite the same as voting to raise taxes.

Then there is the Smith ad that uses a brief clip of Merkley in a debate, saying "I advocate for tax hikes every night in living rooms across Oregon..."

In the debate, Merkley went on to criticize tax loopholes that benefit special interests at the expense of the country — but of course that doesn't appear in Smith's ad.

Merkley isn't running as much television advertising as Smith because he can't afford to. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is doing so on his behalf, and it isn't pretty either.

A DSCC ad firing back at Smith says he'll "say anything to get elected," and charges he voted for tax breaks for "the wealthy," "big oil" and "corporations that shift our jobs overseas."

An e-mail announcing the ad accuses Smith of attacking Merkley out of "desperation."

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party, with the DSCC's help, continues to run "issue ads" featuring Merkley but avoiding mention of his candidacy or Smith, a clever end run around campaign finance rules that limit coordinated expenditures on behalf of a candidate. In one ad, Merkley takes personal credit for diverting the state's corporate kicker to create a rainy day fund, neglecting to mention the Republicans who had to cross the aisle to pass it and the business lobbying groups that supported it.

It's easy to make too much of these election-year shenanigans. Voters are smart enough not to take them at face value.

But they cheapen the process of choosing a senator to represent this state for the next six years. And they reinforce voters' revulsion toward politics and politicians in general.

This kind of advertising makes voters distrust everything either candidate says, and that's not healthy.

So bring on the debates, gentlemen. Please.