Representative Tim Bishop’s victory over Randy Altschuler Tuesday despite the astounding amount of super PAC money — $3.4 million — that fell upon the First Congressional District, gives testimony to the voters’ ability to think for themselves. Everywhere you turned in the last few weeks, you saw or heard the attack ads paid for by a seemingly bottomless pool of dollars — radio, television, the Internet.
These days, with advertisments able to reach into places where Web visitors live, you were likely to see false and trumped-up allegations of corruption against Mr. Bishop by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Then other baseless claims would pop up while you were watching a how-to video on YouTube, for example. Mr. Bishop was even targeted by gun-sight imagery. Voters weren’t buying it.
The millions didn’t suffice to oust Mr. Bishop, but they did demean a race between two viable, if very different, candidates. Mr. Altschuler has impressed us as a nice guy and a political moderate, who may have been, if elected, as hands-on as the effective Mr. Bishop. If given the opportunity, even he might have vetoed the most vicious assaults made on his behalf. In the weird world of unregulated spending, there is only one rule: the candidate has no control.
Attack ads also debased the contest for the White House. A group supporting the president claimed that Mitt Romney, in effect, was responsible for killing a woman who had cancer because her husband lost his health insurance when Mr. Romney’s investment firm closed the man’s plant. On the other side of the coin, an ad on behalf of Mr. Romney howled that Mr. Obama was a racist, prejudiced against whites.
It would be nice to read Mr. Bishop’s win as a local rejection of unregulated campaign spending. That, of course, is a difficult call to make. What is certain is that the democratic process would be improved if the influence of money was reduced.
The line of the night, however, came from Representative Bishop, who, savoring his win, declared, “My opponent had the guys with the biggest checks, but I had the guys with the biggest hearts.”