If Pacific Resource Partnership really wanted to make its latest television attack on Ben Cayetano stick, it should have included a mugshot of a sinister-looking criminal exiting Halawa Prison.

After all, such tactics worked for George H.W. Bush in 1988, when his campaign ran an ad that made opponent Michael Dukakis look weak on crime.

While Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, convicted murderer Willie Horton was freed on a weekend furlough program and subsequently committed assault, armed robbery and rape. Here are two ads the Bush campaign put out that year:

Bush, of course, was elected president, and PRP’s preferred candidate, Kirk Caldwell, may yet be elected Honolulu mayor over Cayetano.

If so, Caldwell will have benefitted from one of the dirtiest political campaigns Hawaii has witnessed. And yet he’s said nothing.

Forget Rail Already

Unlike some negative campaigns, PRP’s has been very much out in the open, delivered through car radios and living room television sets, through canvassing door to door.

This latest ad, PRP’s fourth in the general election campaign, is a slick piece of work.

The 30-second spot — it’s titled “Pen” — says Cayetano issued more pardons than any other Hawaii governor, including for people convicted of domestic abuse, rape and homicide.

“Our newest TV ad highlights the facts and the record of Ben Cayetano to illustrate how important it is for voters to take a hard look at the history of judgment by their mayoral candidates,” John White, PRP’s executive director, said in a press release Tuesday that announced the new ad.

White was conspicuously absent on Monday when reporters tried to ask him about a new libel and slander lawsuit Cayetano filed against and PRP over previous attack ads.

The new PRP press release includes citations, and news organizations and possibly Cayetano’s campaign will look into the merits of the accusations.

The commercial dings Cayetano for pardoning people for “homicide,” something the average watcher may equate with murder. But according to PRP, the pardons involved negligent homicide related to drunken driving — a far cry from first-degree murder.

The ad also says most governors “rarely” issue pardons. And that Cayetano was way out of line because he issued 203 pardons. But a chart sent over by PRP at Civil Beat’s request shows the group is exaggerating:

Governor Full Pardons Partial Pardon,
No Firearms
John Burns 57 0 57
George Ariyoshi 84 9 93
John Waihee 42 70 112
Ben Cayetano 60 143 203
Linda Lingle 31 100 131
Neil Abercrombie 7 5 12

Never mind that a Honolulu mayor cannot issue pardons. Never mind that Cayetano has not held office in 10 years.

The “Pen” ad represents a new low in Hawaii political campaigns, putting us in the same league as the Horton ad and other harsh attack ads in other national and mainland races. So much for aloha.

Negative campaigns aren’t new to Hawaii — just look at the attacks coming out of the U.S. Senate race.

Before PRP came along, the previous low in negative campaigning came with the “compare and decide” mailer in the 2010 governor’s race.

There have also been more stealthy and nefarious attacks in elections past. Remember the smear on Duke Bainum’s wife in the 2004 race for Honolulu mayor or the scurrilous rumors about Cec Heftel in the 1986 governor’s race?

“Pen” also has the potential to bump PRP’s “pay-to-play” blitz that has been in operation for months, though the campaign has been widely denounced as grossly misleading.

The new ad may also steal the thunder from the lawsuit Cayetano filed Monday against PRP for libel and slander.

There’s still two weeks before the Nov. 6 election. What other nasty tricks do John White and PRP have in store?