Special interests, political action committees and state party offices are out to sway votes in the Feb. 12 special state Senate election, with fliers, commercials and online ads inundating area voters.

The special election, triggered when then-DFL Sen. Dan Schoen resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, has become a high-profile race. In part, the tension stems from a chance to upset the 34-32 Republican advantage in the Senate.

If Democrat Karla Bigham is elected and Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, is ordered by a judge to step down and serve only as lieutenant governor, there would be 33 Democrats and 33 Republicans in the Senate chambers.

It's a campaign that some have noted is uglier than usual, with a high number of attack ads being broadcast and mailed to voters.

When you search online for Denny McNamara, the Republican candidate, the first result is sponsored website "donttrustdenny.com" funded by the Democratic-leaning Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

The Minnesota Action Network and Minnesota's Future Committee, which lean to the political right, have branded a tagline "tax crazy Karla" that's plastered on fliers and commercials across the east metro.

Overall, of the political advertisements, some attacked Bigham, others took McNamara to task.

Annie Elmer, a personal trainer and AIDS activist who lives in Cottage Grove, said she isn't surprised at some of the negative fliers. But she said people should be aware of the source of the fliers. Often the most negative "attack" fliers come from political action groups that are not affiliated with the candidates, she said.

"I know a lot of people that aren't paying attention like me and they may be persuaded," she said. "And not notice who is sending them out."

The attack ads came up in a League of Women Voters' candidate forum Jan. 30 during a question about campaign funding.

"Those beautiful ads that are being played ad nauseum ... are really having a negative impact on the community towards the message of change up at the Capitol," Bigham said.

"We don't need to (have) commercials that say 'tax crazy Karla,' we need to be nice," she added, in a statement about bipartisan collaboration at the Capitol.

At least one flier with false information was circulated. It said McNamara voted to raise legislator pay, a motion he voted against. The ad was paid for by the Minnesota DFL Party.

"We should just be talking about the issues, and not saying things that aren't true," McNamara said of the flier.

One flier claimed that Bigham "chose gorillas" over homes for veterans. The Minnesota's Future Committee funded the ad, which seemed to reference a line item from a 2008 bonding bill that included $11 million to renovate polar bear and gorilla habitats at the Como Zoo. Bigham, who was a state representative at the time, said she voted for the bonding bill but couldn't remember if it included money for the zoo.

Another flier from the same organization criticized Bigham's tax record with an image of a leopard and the slogan, "A leopard cannot change its spots." Both were paid for by the Minnesota's Future Committee, which funded in part by 3M, Altria Group PAC and Safelite Group PAC through the Senate Victory PAC.

McNamara also gets the animal treatment. He gets taken to task in a flier funded by the Minnesota DFL Party that depicts a man astride a giant piggy bank. It claims that McNamara was "living high on the hog while working families and students are left behind."

The flier cites media reports on the July 2011 government shutdown when McNamara and dozens of other House and Senate members continued to accept a paycheck while their colleagues declined theirs to show solidarity with laid-off government workers.

McNamara said the charge omits important information.

"I did take my pay during the shutdown," he said. "I didn't want the government to keep it, I was so mad I gave it to charity."

Bev Gross of old Cottage Grove could only shake her head at the fliers for and against Bigham and McNamara that she accumulated in one week.

"We're friends with both of them and this is wild stuff," she said.

Animals seem to be a favorite attention getting device this year, she said.

"We have a leopard, we have a monkey," she said in a dry tone of voice. "What animal's going to show up tomorrow?"