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.).
"We don't need another congressman in jail," the ad warns.
Campaign strategists rushed to book a final wave of TV ads before the weekend. A look at financial reports filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission showed that, on Wednesday alone, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $12.4 million on advertising in 36 districts; the National Republican Congressional Committee spent $5.9 million on commercials in 17 districts.
The expenditures by the two committees are reflective of their overall strategies. Republicans are largely focusing their resources on the campaigns of incumbents facing surprisingly tough reelection races, in hopes of building a wall against a massive wave that could see Democrats pick up 25 or more House seats.
The Democrats must pick up at least 15 seats to win control of the House and six to win control of the Senate.
On Wednesday, the NRCC spent more than $2 million on ads for three endangered Republicans in the Philadelphia media market. The committee spent nearly $750,000 on behalf of Rep. David G. Reichert in Washington's 8th District and an additional $445,000 in Sodrel's Indiana district.
The DCCC, by contrast, is spending the bulk of its money on offensive opportunities. Its largest expenditure -- $1.3 million -- was made on behalf of Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who is running against state Sen. Peter J. Roskam (R) for Illinois' open 6th Congressional District seat. The district is covered by the Chicago media market -- one of the most expensive in the country.
The Democratic committee plunked down $718,000 on behalf of former congressman Ken Lucas, who is trying to unseat Rep. Geoff Davis (R) in northern Kentucky's 4th District, and $673,000 in Arizona's 5th District, where Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R) is trying to fend off a tougher-than-expected challenge from former Tempe mayor Harry Mitchell (D). Mitchell recently won the endorsement of the Arizona Republic newspaper, which had endorsed Hayworth in each of his past six runs for Congress but this time referred to him as a "bully."
Republican Party committees appear to have depleted much of their cash advantage, making it likely they will face tough decisions in the campaign's final days, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan research group.
Between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1, national Republican committees reported spending $50 million to support House and Senate candidates, compared with $38 million spent by Democratic Party committees over the same 14 days.
Usually, the number of competitive districts goes down during a campaign's final weeks. This year, the number of competitive House seats went up. "As a result," the institute said, "the parties either have to give up on some races to concentrate their resources, or spread their resources more thinly than they had planned. This is a problem for both parties, but particularly for the Republicans, who are playing defense to save embattled incumbents."
With resources thinning, control of the Senate continues to teeter on the outcome of races in three states: Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.
Missouri continues to be the truest of tossups, with internal tracking polls for both parties showing the race between Sen. James M. Talent (R) and state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) within a percentage point or two. Democrats are feeling increasingly optimistic about Virginia as they believe former Navy secretary James Webb (D) is overtaking Sen. George Allen (R).
The biggest disagreement between the two sides comes in Tennessee, where Republicans spent the day touting a poll by Zogby International that showed former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker (R) opening a substantial lead over Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D), 53 percent to 43 percent. Later, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a poll of its own that showed Ford in the lead, 46 percent to 40 percent.
Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.