AUBURN — Negative campaigning started early this year, with online Democratic attack ads branding both state Sens. Lois Snowe-Mello and Garrett Mason as a "rubber stamps" for Gov. Paul LePage.
But those ads, paid for by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, may only be a hint of what's to come from those supporting or opposing candidates in the Maine Senate.
Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said he fully expects Republican supporters to pour money into Maine's state Senate races, putting attack ads on television, radio and in the mail.
Most of the attacks will come from independent expenditures that the campaigns have no control over and often don't even want.
In 2010 Snowe-Mello, a Republican, benefited from nearly $170,000 in ads and mailers aimed at opponent Deb Simpson, according to state campaign finance records. But Snowe-Mello recently said she never wanted the ads and was disappointed and surprised by their content.
"I was really shocked, and I tried to say, 'Hey, I don't want this,'" she said.
But her opponent, John Cleveland, a former Auburn mayor and state senator, said he fully expects the tactic to be revived this election cycle.
"We are anticipating it. They have used that model to great success in 2010," Grant said.
He said the control of the state Senate is a high prize, and that Democrats have a plan to try to keep up with any Republican attacks.
The ads are often launched between campaign finance reporting cycles just before the election, and candidates have little time to respond.
Democrats have a plan to spend more money trying to take the seats, Grant said, but he doesn't know if they will be able to go "dollar for dollar" with Republicans, although the party's committees will do some advertising to help their candidates.
One way the candidates in Districts 15 and 17 have been combating any last-minute surge is to spend more time campaigning, and both Cleveland and Quint got early starts, Grant said.
It's not just Democrats who are bracing for the attacks. State Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, a first-term incumbent, said he too expects more negative attacks as well.
But Mason said he's taking it as it comes.
"I think it's part of an election," he said. "Outside money will always be a part of politics. There's no way you can get out of it." He also said he believes in free speech and the intelligence of Maine voters.
"People need to read their disclaimers and consider the source," he said. "I take it with a grain a salt, and I think Maine voters are smarter than attack ads. They will be able to cut through the fog and know what the candidates stand for."
Mason also agreed the ads usually paint a candidate in the worst extreme, while in reality, regardless of party, most Maine lawmakers are closer to the middle than they are to either political extreme.
"We need to realize and get Maine people to understand that upwards of 90 percent of the legislation that we put through there is no argument on," Mason said. "So we all get along pretty good, but the information that voters get can be that extreme from the far left and the far right, too."
He said those buying the negative spots "have every right to do that, but people need to know this stuff is aimed at the bases, and that's just the way politics is."
Grant, the Democratic Party Chairman, said what's most galling to him and others are the "flat-out lies." He said some of the last-minute advertising is an "attempt to put lipstick on a pig."
But, like Mason, he said Maine voters are smarter than the advertising and see through it.