Campaigns Set For TV Finale

By Jonathan Weisman and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

The Republican and Democratic parties dumped tens of millions of dollars this week on dozens of congressional races, locking up broadcast time yesterday for a blizzard of new advertising that will saturate the airwaves over the final weekend of the midterm campaign season.

Candidates rushed out more than 600 new television ads ahead of network deadlines for the weekend, with many Republicans trying to shift attention from Iraq and President Bush to local issues such as the environment, taxes and immigration. This final thrust will boost spending on political and issue advertising past $2 billion in this campaign, or $400 million more than in the 2004 presidential campaign, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"Politics is probably the only business in the world where they spend the most money when they have the least number of available customers to pitch to," Tracey said.

Meanwhile, in Billings, Mont., President Bush kicked off a final six-day campaign swing through heavily Republican states in hopes of rallying disaffected supporters in time to save the endangered GOP majorities in Congress.

Bush opened his tour in this conservative state in a bid to rescue Sen. Conrad Burns, who has battled back from a big deficit against Democratic challenger Jon Tester, and then headed to Nevada, where the president appeared beside a House Republican candidate fighting to hold on to a once-safe seat.

Bush's itinerary and message underscored the depth of the Republican troubles this year -- particularly the president's low approval rating and the strong opposition to the Iraq war -- and the last-minute White House strategy for countering them. The 10 states the president plans to visit before Tuesday's elections all voted for Bush in 2004; he is staying away from battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, where many Republican candidates would rather not campaign with him at this late hour.

In the final ad rush, it has grown difficult to tell which candidates are Republicans and which are Democrats. Burns posted a new ad touting the record of Montana's Democratic senator, Max Baucus, and saying he has stood with Baucus while his opponent, Tester, would oppose him. Rep. Sue W. Kelly, one of several Upstate New York Republicans in trouble, boasts in her new ads of her record on clean air and water -- and her opposition to Bush's energy plan.

"I'm not always the most popular person with party leaders in Congress," she says.

Rep. Michael E. Sodrel (Ind.), one of three highly endangered Hoosier Republicans, treats his Democratic opponent, former congressman Baron Hill, as the incumbent, striking a popular Democratic theme when he charges that Hill voted for policies that send Indiana jobs to China.

Some Democrats are taking a similar tack. Idaho Democrat Larry Grant accuses his Republican opponent, state Rep. William T. Sali, of raising taxes, while Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.) features fresh-faced Dakotans beaming, "Mostly we want to thank Stephanie Herseth for voting to strengthen national security."

But the candidates in the most jeopardy have come out swinging. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who continues to trail his opponent badly in the polls, released an ad featuring a young Iraq war veteran who accuses Pennsylvania state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. (D) of investing billions of the state's dollars in companies that support terrorists.

Democrat Francine Busby, in her third try for the San Diego area seat once held by imprisoned former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, lumped her opponent, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R), with Cunningham, convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and disgraced former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

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