GOP Redirects Funds From Faltering Races

By Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 13, 2006

Faced with a deteriorating political climate, Republican Party officials are hoping to keep control of the House and Senate with a strategy aimed at shoring up enough endangered incumbents to preserve their majorities, while scaling back planned spending on races that now appear unwinnable.

In recent days, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has given back television time it had reserved in Democratic-held districts in West Virginia, South Carolina and Ohio -- apparently concluding that those races are beyond reach unless something dramatic changes the national political environment in the 25 days before the Nov. 7 election.

The Republican National Committee, which is using its substantial resources to supplement the party's Senate campaign committee, has spent virtually all of its television money in just three states -- Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee -- hoping to build a levee strong enough to save those seats and the Senate majority.

But recent events, among them the problems facing Republican Sens. George Allen in Virginia and Mike DeWine in Ohio, make that task even more difficult, GOP strategists privately concede.

Democrats, meanwhile, are juggling pleas for financial assistance from candidates in House districts once considered second-tier opportunities. The Democrats have ordered up polls in a dozen or more of these long-shot districts and now face a critical choice: whether to place bets on a few of these districts in the hope of expanding the field of competitive seats, or concentrate advertising dollars as planned on the roughly 20 to 25 districts where the odds appear most favorable.

Linda Stender has been pressing party officials to pour money into her uphill race against Rep. Mike Ferguson in New Jersey's 7th District, touting a new poll that shows her within striking distance. So far, those officials are balking.

"The challenge right now is for the DCCC to assess all the information as it is coming that show which races are competitive," Stender said. "If anything, what is toughest is there are so many seats that are competitive now."

Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said the party will look carefully before jumping in. "We're going to be polling, and we're going to look at the political dynamics and the strength of candidacies," he said. "No decisions have been made at this point."

Democrats need to gain 15 seats next month to recapture the House. Strategists believe the goal is now attainable, because of high disapproval ratings for both the Republican-controlled Congress and for President Bush, as well as public dissatisfaction over Iraq and the fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal.

Some top Republicans privately talk about losing a minimum of 12 seats, leaving them with a barely workable majority, and as many as 25 or 30 seats. Democratic strategists see the range of potential pickups in almost identical terms.

The two House campaign committees are pouring most of their money into independent expenditure ads -- most of them negative -- on behalf of their candidates. As of early this week, Democrats had spent or reserved about $49 million in advertising time; the Republicans had spent or reserved $56 million to $60 million. In some races, there may be no more television time to buy.

A summary of advertising dollars spent to date by the candidates, the national party committees and major outside groups, produced by a media firm called TNSMI/CMAG and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that the bulk of television money has gone into 35 House districts.

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