Below are five of the nastiest ads of the midterms. They offer a glimpse into what a party and its candidates do when the issues are stacked against them (Bush, Iraq, health care, energy, the economy, global warming, incompetence, corruption, etc.). The GOP playbook: distract, divide, smear, slime…win by any means necessary and hope you fool the voters.

Nasty Ad #1: Target: Michael Arcuri (paid for by the NRCC): This ad accuses Arcuri of using taxpayer dollars to dial a sex fantasy hotline – even though everyone admits that it was a wrong number dialed by one of the candidate’s aides, who tried to call the state division of criminal justice, which had a number almost identical to that of the porn line. The misdial cost taxpayers $1.25. The ad cost about $10,000.

Nasty Ad #2: Target: John Cranley (paid for by NRCC): “Cranley voted to allow children as young as seven to be tased.” The ad is illustrated with a pigtailed girl being struck by lightning bolts. It refers to the candidate’s refusal to ban police from using a taser on kids – because, Cranley has argued, it’s better to use a taser to stop a weapons-wielding child than a real gun.

Nasty Ad #3: Target: Harold Ford (paid for by the RNC): This race-baiting ad accuses Ford of meeting a white woman at a Playboy party. The ad ends with an actress – playing the role of the aforementioned woman – winking into the camera and whispering, “Harold, call me.” Note that the RNC at first said that it had no control over the ad, and then a spokesman stated that “the party was replacing the ad as part of a normal ‘rotation.’ “

Nasty Ad #4: Target: Ron Kind (paid for by the Paul Nelson campaign): “Ron Kind pays for sex, but not for soldiers.” The ad takes Kind’s support for funding of National Institutes of Health studies completely out of context, and makes a false leap that those funds could have been used to instead supply body armor.

Nasty Ad #5: Target: Brad Miller (paid for by the Vernon Robinson campaign): This congressional challenger in North Carolina manages in 60 seconds to tie Miller to Osama bin Laden, gay marriage, “lesbians and feminists,” activist judges, infanticide, flag-burning, racial quotas, illegal immigrants, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and last but not least – space aliens!

Over $2 billion will be spent on tv ads this political season – $2 billion. Imagine how meaningful reform – such as publicly funded campaigns – might change things. Instead of endless streams of emails and letters begging for money to fund the ad wars, candidates might be able to raise resources for things that really matter – and lead by example.