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BY BOB LEWIS
AP Political Writer
RICHMOND--Campaign spending records for Virginia were obliterated months ago in the crossfire of nasty ads from candidates and their independent but allied super PACs, and now the bitter back-and-forth is reaching a point of diminishing returns with voters.
In unprecedented volumes, political attacks are blasting at voters through their mailboxes, over the phone, on television and radio and through the Internet. Text messages have even been sent illegally to cellphones in Hampton Roads. Much of it is underwritten by wealthy, anonymous donors who set up nominally independent groups.
Political professionals, media experts and particularly voters themselves say many people are becoming immune to it and tuning it out.
"Even if you don't mute it when it comes on, your mental switch goes straight to off," said Jimmie Massie, a Republican member of Virginia's House of Delegates, after a Friday press conference promoting Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
That's exactly what Marilyn Salisbury does. The 76-year-old cancer survivor in Zuni in rural Tidewater Virginia said she actually researched some of the claims the ads make and is dismayed at what she found.
"Annoying is one thing, but it would be good to hear somebody tell the truth for once," said Salisbury, who plans to vote for President Barack Obama. "Honey, I've learned to mentally tune it all out."
Virginia has experienced contentious elections before. Until this year, the benchmark for high-dollar slash-and-burn campaigns was the 1994 U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Chuck Robb and Republican Iran-Contra figure Oliver North. North burned through nearly $20 million to Robb's $5 million in a race Robb narrowly won.
So far this year, outside groups alone have spent more than $16 million and have millions more in reserved television time in Virginia's dead-even U.S. Senate race between two former governors, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine. That doesn't count the millions of dollars the candidates themselves have spent.
Nor does it account for a penny of the tens of millions that Obama and Romney and all the super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups have spent to secure Virginia, one of eight battleground states where the race and the presidency hangs in the balance.
"This is the first time that we're really experiencing a battleground state," said Bob Denton, a Virginia Tech professor who specializes in political communications.