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What voters need to know about political attack ads

RICHMOND, Va. -- With only hours left until Virginia voters head to the polls, many are counting down to Wednesday morning, when the airwaves will no longer be flooded with political ads.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, nearly $29 million have been spent on media buys in the 2017 Governor’s race. That number includes both the campaigns and outside interest groups.

Spending on TV ad buys is spiked in the final weeks of the race, which coincides with shift in the tone of the campaign toward more personal attacks.

CBS 6 political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth said that is not surprising.

Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie

The tone of campaigns traditionally becomes more negative in the closing weeks, Holsworth said. He added that Virginia has been the focus of outside spending because it is the only truly competitive statewide race in the country this fall.

"Let me make you a little fearful of this person or that person,” Holsworth said. "On top of what the candidates have done, all these interest groups have come in on top of them with all these negative ads.”

Political ads have long been accused of distorting or twisting the truth, and in 2017, ads run by both major party candidates have been labeled “misleading” by independent fact checkers. State law requires the disclosure of who produced a political attack ad in most cases; however; Dr. Holsworth said those laws do not include provisions about truthfulness or accuracy.

"By and large, when it comes to political ads, almost anything goes,” said Holsworth, who added those laws do not take into account social media ad buys. "Even the disclosure requirements are not embraced by everyone doing a political ad because they're taking place on some platforms that do not consider themselves quote, unquote media.”

The Bills family was enjoying an unseasonably warm day in Carytown when they spoke with CBS 6 about the deluge of political ads they have seen of late. Jennifer Bills is a Democrat and her husband Heath is a Republican.

The Bills said despite their differing approaches to politics, their family manages to have civil dialogue about current affairs, and that negative campaigning, regardless of party affiliation, only cheapens that conversation.

"When I hear someone saying something like that I tend to not want to listen to what they are saying anymore,” Jennifer Bills said.

"They would not be running for Governor if they didn't want to serve, if they didn't want to take care of the people. But [attack ads] take away from their character, and who they are,” said Heath Bills.