By MIKE GLOVER
AP Political Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Democrats broadened their assault on Republican legislative campaign tactics Tuesday, accusing the GOP of "outright lies" in a series of local elections scattered around the state.
"It goes beyond negative campaigning to untruths and outright lies," House Democratic Leader Pat Murphy of Dubuque said at a Statehouse news conference.
The issue first surfaced last week, when Republican challenger Kevin Wiskus announced he was leaving the GOP because of "vile" attacks launched by the state GOP against Democratic Rep. Kurt Swaim of Bloomfield.
At his news conference, Murphy pointed to mailings opposing Rep. Dawn Pettingill, D-Mount Auburn, and Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, accusing them of voting for legislation before they were actually elected to the Legislature. That mailing came from a GOP-leaning group based in Washington, Murphy said.
"They have set a new low and broken the public trust by sending out campaign mailings with distortions and outright lies," said Murphy. "I am deeply disappointed that Republicans have made Iowa into ground zero for their national smear and distract strategy."
House Speaker Chris Rants, R-Sioux City, rejected the complaint, arguing the mailings they are complaining about look very similar to ones Democrats used in 2004.
"It's actually hypocritical for Pat Murphy to criticize the mail piece against Kurt Swaim," said Rants. "Democrats like to dish it out. I'm not sure they can take it."
Murphy argued that the level of attack politics going on in legislative races is unprecedented.
"While the campaign season usually doesn't start until October, Republicans started with anonymous phone calls last spring and have now resorted to making things up," Murphy said.
The arguments underscore the intensity of the campaigning going on in the state, in part due to a narrowly divided Legislature. The Senate is dead even at 25-25, while Republicans control the House on a 51-49 margin.
Murphy argued that Republicans are increasingly nervous in House races because Democrats have fielded 47 incumbents running for another term, while Republicans only have 42 incumbents running again.
Rants said he can't control attacks launched by independent groups, because the law forbids them from sharing their tactics with him.
"I have no idea what they're doing," said Rants.
Murphy rejected that argument.
"They have to take accountability for what's put out on their behalf," said Murphy. "Candidates can't sit there and use that as an excuse."
Murphy said Democrats will end up gaining from the attacks, because they are turning off voters.
"The backlash from these negative attacks has been tremendous for our Democratic candidates," said Murphy. "There has been an outpouring of support from Iowans tired of personal attacks."