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Congressional Races Get Ugly, Too

The other U.S. national contest, the battle for Congress, is getting down and dirty.

In Arizona, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake's  bid for a Senate seat is facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general and combat veteran. Flake put out a TV ad last week charging that his opponent had anger-management problems in his interactions with women. The ad quoted a former superior as saying he banged on the door of her house in the middle of the night.

Carmona says that the accusation is "a work of fiction" and that the person in the ad is a partisan Republican who was caught lying on her resume.

In Florida, incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson has a commercial suggesting that his opponent, Congressman Connie Mack, lacks the temperament for the Senate: "A promoter for Hooters, with a history of bar-room brawling, altercations and road rage, a big spender with a trail of debts, liens and unpaid bills."

"Even if it were all true, and it's not, who cares?" Mack responded in his own ad.

In closely contested Senate races, including those in Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, Connecticut and especially Indiana, commercials are overwhelmingly negative, according to Kantar Media's CMAG, which monitors advertising.

House races aren't as visible but can be even dirtier. In Florida, the latest ad by Republican incumbent Allen West focuses on a bar brawl that his Democratic opponent was involved in as a teenager. The Democratic candidate's father ran a commercial containing a caricature of West punching out two old ladies, while criticizing his votes on Medicare.

Politico recently compiled a list of the 10 nastiest House races. In second place was a California contest between two Democratic congressmen, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. At a debate the day after the article was published, a security guard had to separate them after Sherman threatened to punch his opponent.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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