For months, we’ve been hearing the distant thunder of negative presidential campaigning in New Hampshire. Now the leading edge of that approaching storm is at our borders, filled with wild winds unleashed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case last year, which has allowed unlimited and anonymous attack ads to blanket the country.

The first advance showers arrived a few weeks ago in the form of Washington ads attacking Angus King. This past week we saw what is surely the most cynical and dishonest ad in Maine in our lifetimes, in which Republican operatives in Washington shamelessly urge people to vote for the Democrat in the Senate race, using messages that can increase her support among core, activist Democrats while at the same time ensuring that she never gets broader statewide support.

For the first time in decades an election in Maine has national implications, as we select a U.S. senator who may well be the deciding vote in a divided Senate. That’s gotten the attention of the big-money folks down in Washington. Whenever that happens, the advertising attack dogs are sent into action.

We love to complain that we’re a little behind the times here in Maine, but when it comes to negative campaigning it’s been a blessing. Being at the remote edge of the country has enabled us to hold onto an unspoken tradition, dating back at least to former Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, of not crossing over certain lines in politics.

Maine voters often punish candidates who they feel have gone too far. We saw that two years ago when Democrats went over the top in attacks on Eliot Cutler’s ties to China, contributing to the collapse of the Democratic candidate’s campaign.

That isn’t to say that Maine campaigns are entirely cheery and positive, but compared to the rest of the country they’ve been relatively civil and in line with Maine values of fairness and decency.

In some ways we’re actually ahead of the curve in campaigns. We’ve long supported public financing of campaigns. Two years ago we had a major candidate for governor who pledged not to run negative ads and didn’t. This year another major candidate for Senate has done the same.

Some people say that campaigns have always been like this. No, they haven’t. While vicious attack messages have been a part of American campaigns since Thomas Jefferson’s day, past campaigns couldn’t deliver their attack messages as we do now.

Campaigns today possess a devastating combination of unlimited dollars and sophisticated technologies that can reach us directly in our homes, vehicles and workplaces hundreds of times each week. The ability to deliver negative attacks has grown a thousand-fold. To misunderstand that is to confuse a horse with a 747.

All of this has enormous consequences for Maine and for the country. Trust and respect toward public service and the nation’s democratic institutions are at all-time lows and still sinking. As the public endures regular waves of attacks on every single candidate who runs and every politician who serves, the country is becoming more polarized and more hostile toward government and toward democracy itself.

The cumulative effects of incessant negative advertising are like a drop of poison applied to the well each day. You don’t see or feel the illness until it’s too late.

Negative campaigns are America’s poison in the democratic well. Perhaps most importantly, the gantlet of abuse that we call campaigns is driving from public life the very leaders and statesmen we so desperately need.

Rushing to fill the vacuum are the warriors — the angry, the loud and the self-righteous — skillful at winning campaigns but clueless about governing. It doesn’t take a particularly sharp eye to see how this has played out in Augusta or Washington over the last few years, to the detriment of all of us.

While the country is watching Maine this fall, we should declare our independence and defend our borders from this new kind of negative campaigning. Here are a few things we can do:

1. Speak out. Don’t let these negative attacks become the norm here in Maine.

2. Offer support only to candidates who pledge not to run negative ads.

3. If the candidate you support goes negative, go elsewhere.

4. Take note of candidates who hide behind anonymous negative advertising by surrogates. Vote for someone else.

5. Don’t believe every bad thing you hear about somebody in an attack ad. Your healthy skepticism about candidates is being exploited. Tune negative attacks out or turn them off.

Alan Caron is a lifelong Mainer, a disgruntled Democrat, an author of “Reinventing Maine Government” who served on Gov. LePage’s transition team and a supporter of Angus King. He can be reached at:

[email protected]