With Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton still locked in a tight race for the Democratic presidential nomination, their campaigns have begun to dabble more with a controversial tactic: political attacks.
Some members of the University of Arizona campus community believe the attacks -- mainly centering on race, religion and campaign strategy -- are doing less to progress either candidate and more to dissuade voters.
"I see Hillary as being more desperate in her attacks, and they're a little more personal," said Jordan Castro, an undeclared freshman. "Eventually, the bickering is going to have to stop because the Republicans already have a nominee (Arizona senator John McCain) and we can't go to the conventions with a split party. It gets in the way of the real issues."
Clinton's supporters have provided the majority of the vitriol, questioning Obama's viability as an African-American candidate and even addressing the Illinois senator's teenage drug use.
Clinton herself has focused on his relative lack of experience and her doubts about his capability to lead the country.
Obama -- who holds a 1,602-1,497 delegate lead in the race for the 2,025 needed to clinch the nomination, according to The Associated Press -- has mocked Clinton's credentials as a "self-possessed agent of change."
His supporters have questioned whether the New York senator is creating enough appeal to drum up voters from traditionally conservative states, where Obama has thus far found success.
Liszet Chavez-Avila, a junior majoring in family sciences and human development, believes that if the Democratic Party stays divided, the Republicans will triumph.
"If (Clinton and Obama) were to fight for what they believe without kicking and screaming like children then people could take their concerns seriously," she said.
James Jefferies, a political science senior and president of the UA Young Democrats, sees the buildup into the next primary in Pennsylvania on April 22 as a potentially key factor with regard to the national picture.
"If they go really personal and tear each other up from here into the Pennsylvania election, it will allow the Republicans a lot of ammunition to use in the fall," he said. "McCain is just kind of sitting on the sidelines right now raising money and mending some of his own fences."
With McCain having sewn up the Republican presidential nomination just over a week ago, he has an advantage of not being so much under the glare of the media, said Brice McCoy, a political science junior and president of the UA College Republicans.
"They're bringing things up about each other that make each the other look bad, so that makes McCain look better in comparison," he said.
Jefferies believes Clinton and Obama could manage to do all the negative campaigning for McCain if they keep up the attacks, adding that he "would have nothing left to use against them in the fall."
Others disagree, saying that attacks from Republicans are inevitable.
"I don't think the Democrats are going to criticize each other in any way that the Republicans will not have already thought of or won't think of in the general election campaign," said Bill Dixon, head of the political science department. "If people criticize the Democrats of giving criticisms to the Republicans, I think they're wrong because the Republicans would come up with them, anyways. From that standpoint, it's not really hurting the Democrats or helping the Republicans."
In any event, Jefferies doesn't predict that the attacks between Clinton and Obama will get any worse in the months ahead.
"As I see it, they both have their own particular constraints as far as their attacks. Hillary is reinorcing her negative stereotypes in the media, and Obama has limited latitude in how negative he can get," he said. "It's really tough because neither one of them wants to do anything that will allow McCain to be more electable, so they're really constrained in terms of how low they can go in their attacks."
Project Vote Smart, a non-profit organization affiliated with the UA, works to keep voters focused on the issues in elections, rather than attacks and their fallout.
"The organization currently has more than 50 UA students who are involved in the 2008 election coverage," said Mia Ibarra, director of the Tucson office.
"We feel like voters shouldn't be influenced by this kind of campaigning," she said. "Our mission is to provide information so voters don't have to rely on it to make their decision. On our Web site we have a range of information that people can use to try and figure out what the actual issue positions of the candidates are aside from what they say on TV or what's in their ads."
Dixon said that political attacks aren't very effective as a campaign tactic.
"I don't think it's going to affect voters' opinions much," he said. "The general election is far enough away, and there will be enough coverage of the two candidates that most of what has gone on in the Democratic primary battle will be forgotten."
Still, the emotional pull of the attacks should prove to have some effect on how ballots will be cast for either candidate, said Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.
"No matter how you slice it, the campaign is very heated and intense on the Democratic side and students have become very involved," he said. "Political attacks or whatever else is definitely going to drive student opinions and affect how they're going to vote."
© 2008 Arizona Daily Wildcat via U-WIRE