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Dotterrer-Bates Senate race goes negative?

Jackson County residents are being bombarded with mailers, ads and “push” polls that some say have taken a negative turn in a closely watched race between state Sen. Alan Bates and Republican challenger Dave Dotterrer.

“I expect it’s going to get really ugly and painful,” said Bates, D-Medford.

But Dotterrer, of Ashland, said his ads focus on issues in the campaign that are important to voters.

“I’m not going to personally attack him,” he said. “A campaign is about a debate. It is about making a point where I disagree with him or where he stands on issues.”

Bates, however, says he thinks the negative tone of his opponent’s ads takes his positions out of context and “blows them up.”

“It’s kind of upsetting,” he said. “I don’t want my grandchildren looking at this stuff.”

This is the second time Dotterrer has run against Bates, and the race is one of the most closely watched in the state because it could change the balance of power in Salem. Republican leaders and supporting groups are expected to send significant dollars to Dotterrer, hoping his win could give them a majority in the Senate.

A push poll, which tries to sway voters against a particular candidate by asking leading questions, also has been circulated recently, trying to dissuade voters in the Ashland area from supporting Bates, though it hasn’t been confirmed who’s behind it. Dotterrer said he didn’t know anything about it.

So far, Dotterrer has received almost $300,000 in contributions, while Bates received almost $170,000, although he had more than $80,000 in addition from his previous campaign, according to the Oregon Secretary of State.

Dotterer's TV and radio ads have been running for several weeks. 

In one, a little girl says, “Alan Bates deserves an ‘F’” for failing to reform education in Oregon. Another ad criticizes Bates for failing to stimulate the local economy and generate more jobs. “Alan Bates tax increases have hurt small businesses,” the ad says.

Dotterrer said that everything in his ads has been carefully documented. He said he is putting out mailers that describe in more detail Bates’ voting record regarding education and the economy, issues that he thinks are of importance to voters.

"If we're putting something up, we have the supporting documentation," he said. One of Dotterer's mailings lists several bills that Bates supported that Dotterer says hurt small business.

Voters have noticed the change in tone in the campaign.

William Coyne, a Medford resident, recently criticized Dotterrer for his ads in a letter to the editor in the Mail Tribune:

“What happened to Dave?," he wrote. "Four years ago when he ran, he showed promise, but if he can’t stand up to the Portland powers-that-be who pay for his ads to get him elected, how will he do it if he is elected? Maybe it feels like doing bad things to get elected is justified by the good done once in office, but that’s not true.”

But John Howard of Medford, who has worked for Republican Congressman Greg Walden, responded directly to Coyne’s objection in another letter to the editor:

“Excuse me? I've seen the ad several times, and it says nothing negative about Dr. Bates. It merely points that he voted against tax breaks for small businesses while voting for similar breaks for big businesses up north. Pointing out an incumbent's voting record is not in any way ‘going negative.’”

Bates also has ads, but they don’t mention Dotterrer.

In one of Bates’ ads, he describes how he supported a bill that provides a framework to help at-risk children stay in a monitored family situation rather than go into foster care. Another ad describes how Bates supports local farmers and how he backed efforts to make Jackson County free of genetically modified crops.

Bates said he thinks Dotterrer’s ads attempt to create a negative impression and said he would prefer that Dotterrer concentrate more on positive ads that describe his own attributes.

“If he’s got some points, give the whole story, not just some half-truths,” he said. “They think that their way of winning the election is by attacking me.”

Bates said he has worked hard to bring more jobs to Southern Oregon by working with local schools to improve the skills of the local workforce, which he said has been a major issue for local businesses looking for qualified employees.

He said he’s had to make some tough votes in the past, voting on issues that sometimes benefit one group over another.

"I think I’ve made the right decisions,” he said.

Dotterrer said he will soon be sending out mailers that have similar themes to the TV ads, but also include references to Bates’ votes on various bills. He said all the bills will be clearly marked and can be verified by voters.

Dotterrer said his intent is to highlight the importance of job creation and business growth in Southern Oregon, which still lags behind the Willamette Valley.

His ads also describe his concerns about the educational system in Oregon, which he said doesn't compare well with the rest of the nation.

He said he’s made it clear to his campaign staff and supporters that he will not tolerate personal attacks on Bates and acknowledged, without elaborating, that his opponent has done some good things for Southern Oregon.

“Of course he has,” Dotterrer said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

State Senate campaign ads for incumbent Alan Bates, as shown at left, and Dave Dotterrer, at right, are using children to make their points in a campaign that some say has turned increasingly negative. Mail Tribune illustration / Bob Pennell