If this political season seems especially nasty, that’s because it is. In fact, the Republican game plan centers around fear and smear.

In 2000, 40 percent of presidential television advertisements went negative. That number jumped to 50 percent four years later. Now Republicans are spending more than 90 percent of their $50 million ad budget attacking Democrats.

If you only watched Republican TV spots, you’d think Democrats want to abort black babies, dial phone sex hotlines and let convicted child molesters into the country.

“In general, ’06 is the most negative campaign in recent memory,” says John Geer, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies political advertising.

But there’s a distinction between the two parties. “The Democrats are, on average, running more attacks on issues,” says Geer. “The Republicans are more likely to go personal.”

In other words, while Democrats talk about Iraq, oil companies and Jack Abramoff, Republicans focus on Playboy parties, sex scenes in novels and attacking Parkinson’s victims.

It’s deeply ironic that the party responsible for the most scandals in decades now wants to question the personal integrity of the other side.