WASHINGTON – If voters were looking for reasons to keep ignoring the presidential campaign this summer, they got plenty of them this week.

Friday capped a weeklong stretch of campaign character attacks masked in so-called television advertisements that sparked a series of claims that the other guy is fabricating the facts.

“What does it say about a president’s character when his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman’s death for political gain?” screams a new ad from Mitt Romney’s campaign that seeks to link President Obama to an outside group’s commercial.

Hitting back, White House press secretary Jay Carney took Romney’s campaign to task for a Republican group’s ad suggesting that Obama isn’t an American citizen.

Most of the ads bandied about by the campaigns and their backers this week are only being seen on the Internet or the occasional news show, according to Democrats and Republicans who track what ads are on the air and where. Many of these big announcements of scathing ads are little more than tactical maneuvers aimed at proving a point, generating news coverage or sending up a trial balloon to see if any of the attacks stick.

In some cases, they’re not intended for swing-voting viewers who tend to tell pollsters that negative advertising turns them off. Few people are paying attention anyway in the Olympics-filled summer lull before the conventions kick off the fall homestretch.

On one hand, none of this is really all that new. Who can forget the explosive Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad in 2004 that questioned Democrat John Kerry’s military service? It barely ran on the TV airwaves. Yet, it created huge controversy. The media coverage of it — including the free airtime it got on news programs — was immense and it so sullied the Massachusetts senator that summer that he could never recover.

Eight years later, the same game is being played but on a changed technological playing field. Now campaigns can more swiftly create hard-hitting campaign videos and, with a couple of keystrokes, blast them across the Internet by posting them on YouTube and emailing them to countless people in hopes that they go viral. For free.

This comes from campaigns that often declare they wish the other side would focus on substance in an election both call the most important of our lifetime.