National Democratic committee invests big bucks in 3 freshman Md., Va. lawmakers

Christine O'Donnell, a "tea party"-backed insurgent candidate, stunned the GOP establishment by beating nine-term Rep. Mike Castle for the Delaware Senate nomination.
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 10:27 PM

National Democrats continue to pour money into the reelection bids of freshman Reps. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. in Maryland as well as Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye in Virginia, even as the party has largely given up on other candidates facing similarly tough races across the country.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has drawn attention by canceling its reservations for advertising time in a handful of districts where it believes its chances are dwindling and shifting its resources to races that appear more winnable.

But although Kratovil, Perriello and Nye regularly appear on lists of the most-endangered incumbents in the country, the committee appears to believe it still has a fighting chance and has now spent more than $1.5 million combined on those contests.

"Every day that goes by, our position in these races gets stronger as voters are reminded of how out of touch an agenda these Republican candidates have," said committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson. "As voters learn about the choices and consequences in this election, we're gaining ground in each of these races."

Republicans counter that Democrats are just delaying their inevitable abandonment of the three freshmen.

"They've given up on four incumbents, and they'll give up on more," said Andy Sere, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Given their consistent underperformance, these three are prime targets for the next round of cuts."

Kratovil has been the biggest beneficiary of the three. On Tuesday, the DCCC reported spending $354,000 to attack the Republican candidate, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, bringing the committee's total investment in the race this cycle to $803,000. The latest independent poll of the contest had Kratovil trailing by 3 percentage points; an internal Kratovil campaign poll from September showed him ahead by 6 points.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the 1st District - which includes the Eastern Shore and the suburbs north and south of Baltimore - by 19 points in the 2008 presidential race, and surveys show that President Obama is extremely unpopular there. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report puts Kratovil's race in the "Lean Republican" category, making him one of the 10 most-endangered Democratic incumbents in the country - more so than Nye or Perriello.

In Virginia's 2nd District, which covers much of the Hampton Roads area and the state's Eastern Shore, the DCCC reported Tuesday that it had spent $148,000 to help Nye by criticizing auto dealer Scott Rigell (R). The committee has now put $516,000 into that race, and a recent independent poll showed Rigell leading by 6 points.

The DCCC is investing less in central Virginia's 5th District, where Perriello is fighting a high-profile contest against state Sen. Robert Hurt (R). The committee said Tuesday that it had spent $97,000 to go after Hurt, bringing its investment for the cycle to $222,000. (The main media markets in the 5th District, Roanoke and Charlottesville, are much cheaper than Norfolk/Virginia Beach in the 2nd and Baltimore in Maryland's 1st.)

Several outside groups have also made recent buys in that race, with the Sierra Club/League of Conservation Voters and the Service Employees International Union both now airing ads against Hurt.

Every recent poll of the 5th District contest has shown Perriello trailing, but one independent poll had the Democrat down just 1 point.

The NRCC is also spending big in all three races, as expected given that they are viewed as prime pickup opportunities. The committee said last week that it had put $155,000 into a new buy of ads against Perriello, bringing its total spending against the Democrat to $453,000. The NRCC has also spent $139,000 on ads against Nye and $115,000 for commercials against Kratovil.

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