Groups redirect health-care ads to cheer and jeer Democrats

By Aaron C. Davis and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The House's passage Saturday of a sweeping health-care bill has pushed the advertising battle over reform into a new phase, as competing groups have taken to the airwaves to thank or punish Democrats for their votes.

The liberal group launched a $500,000 television campaign Monday targeting lawmakers who voted no, including first-termers such as Rep. Glenn Nye (Va.).

Meanwhile, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and more than 20 other House Democrats in vulnerable seats who voted for the bill enjoyed a far warmer reception from the liberal group Health Care for America Now and one of the nation's largest public employee unions. Those groups bankrolled a series of "thank you" commercials to laud freshmen in battleground districts in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and elsewhere for "standing up to the insurance companies and fighting for us."

The battle of the airwaves has already seen more than $150 million spent this year on television ads related to the health-care debate, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group. As of Friday, about $63 million had been spent on ads favoring Democrats' reform plans and $52 million on ads opposed, according to the analysis group.

The House's passage of a reform bill, however, immediately pushed those ad dollars in new directions.

Monday's thank-yous and thanks-for-nothings appeared aimed at corralling House Democrats in advance of the Senate's debate and a final vote, should both chambers reconcile differences in their bills. The ads also provided opening shots at framing lawmakers' health-care votes for the 2010 election.

"I think you're going to see a healthy dose of groups going to prop up and backslap Democrats who voted for this bill," said Evan Tracey, the analysis group's chief operating officer. "And conversely, you're going to see those opposed try to go and shine a light on them in their districts."

Justin Ruben,'s executive director, said in a statement that the health-care vote had provided a historic opportunity and the organization would make sure that lawmakers "who did the right thing know they can count on the support of their base."

Kilroy, who on Monday returned to a central Ohio district that had been held by Republicans for more than 40 years before she eked out a victory there last year, announced more than a day before Saturday's vote that she would support the bill.

Like other lawmakers in traditionally conservative Districts, Kilroy had weathered withering criticism during the summer in more than 20 town-hall meetings and at other health-care events.

Randy Borntrager, Kilroy's chief of staff, said her vote for the bill fulfilled a campaign promise for more affordable health care for her constituents. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003, Kilroy campaigned for provisions of the bill that would end insurance companies' right to reject applicants based on preexisting conditions. It was premature, Borntrager said Monday, to consider the effect of thank-you ads or counter-campaigns by her opponents next year.

"We can't really predict," Borntrager said. "When it comes down to it, she chose to stand up for the people of central Ohio."

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