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As Elections Near, Dueling With Dollars

John Lapp decides what political ads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will run across the country as the party tries to retake control of the House of Representatives.
John Lapp decides what political ads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will run across the country as the party tries to retake control of the House of Representatives. (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee)

In Washington's 5th District, Lapp is running ads hitting freshman Rep. Cathy McMorris despite the strong Republican tilt of the district. That's because ad time in the Spokane media market, which covers almost the entire district, is relatively inexpensive, allowing the DCCC to fund a week of ads for just over $300,000. It is a cheap bet, even for a long shot.

But Lapp is not running ads against Rep. Jean Schmidt (Ohio) who, despite woeful reelection numbers, benefits from the high price of television time in the Cincinnati market. This decision could save Schmidt's job, strategists in both parties say.

The DCCC is set to launch an ad against Rep. Ron Lewis in Kentucky's 2nd District with what one operative described as "guilt money," after committee officials played a major role in persuading state Rep. Mike Weaver to challenge the incumbent.

Lapp also plays mind games. Because both parties have a staff member who monitors potential ad buys, Lapp will spend time calling television stations to inquire about ad buys he never plans to make -- just to confuse or intimidate Republicans.

Most times, the calls are for real. Take Illinois' 6th District, where Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth (D) is running low on cash in her race against state Sen. Peter Roskam. The DCCC recently stepped in, raising its commitment to $2.7 million in the costly Chicago media market in hopes of keeping her chances alive in the last week.

Howard Wolfson, who sat in Lapp's chair during the 2002 election cycle, said knowing where to spend and, as important, where not to spend is by far the most difficult part of the job.

"Where Republicans choose to defend and where Democrats choose to attack are critically important," he said.

Research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.


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