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Romney tax returns: Could Reid’s unsubstantiated attack hurt Democrats?

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“It’s another example of our political leaders not backing up allegations about the opposite party or another candidate with the facts,” says Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The American public is really disgusted, and from some polls we’ve done, even ashamed of our national leaders’ inability to solve problems.”

And it’s not that Republicans are angels. “We could easily be having this conversation about some statement from a leader in the other party tearing down [President] Obama,” Ms. Lukensmeyer says.

The likely upshot, she says, is that Americans become further alienated from the political process and just don’t vote.

But the campaigns are not in the business of driving up turnout in the name of civic participation. They just want one more vote than the opposition. If Reid’s tactic is perceived to be successful – Romney’s image remains poor and he loses in November – then chances are voters will be treated to more of same in the future.

Still, political analysts warn that Reid and the Democrats have to be cautious.

“People like a fair game in certain ways,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton University. “If there’s a perception that this is about innuendo, rumor, and character assassination, it can backfire.”

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