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Interest groups use ads to prod public, Congress on fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON — The negative ads that marked the presidential contest may be gone, but a different political battle is keeping the airwaves crackling: the fiscal cliff.

These ads focus on the stakes involved in allowing the mix of tax increases and spending cuts to take effect in ­January and are funded by advocacy groups, including labor unions that want to protect entitlement programs and business groups opposed to higher taxes.

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Some are running on national cable television stations, others in the states and districts of lawmakers who could help broker a deal.

The Congressional Budget Office has said failure to reach an accord may push the economy into recession.

Little progress has been publicly reported by Obama’s administration and Republican congressional leaders on a compromise.

The ads seeking to influence the negotiations vary in tone and substance from the harder-hitting, candidate-centered spots leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election.

‘‘An election ad has one goal: support someone or defeat someone,’’ said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political ads. The issue ads can have several goals, he said, including influencing an undecided lawmaker or cautioning a wavering one not to break party ranks.

Fiscal cliff ads are airing on a smaller scale than the ­campaign ads, but they could be effective if they generate media attention and galvanize voters.

‘‘Ads don’t have to run very often to produce an avalanche of media coverage,’’ said Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. The result can be ‘‘pressure on Congress.’’

While it is too early to gauge the ads’ impact, issue-oriented commercials can mobilize the public and Congress under the right circumstances.

In the early 1990s the ‘‘Harry and Louise’’ ads, featuring a fictional couple attacking a health-care overhaul proposed by President Clinton, helped defeat that plan.

Those ads ‘‘conveyed the message that it was a really complicated plan with unintended consequences, and it was targeted very, very carefully at important members’’ of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Goldstein said.

In the current debate, three labor groups aired television ads last week.

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