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  •   GOP Spends Millions in Key House Races in Ohio Valley

    Ohio River Valley
    Ground Zero: The Ohio River Valley
    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, October 31, 1998; Page A13

    CINCINNATI, Oct. 30 The national Republican Party is pouring millions of dollars into eight House districts in the Ohio Valley regarded as key to the outcome of the 1998 congressional election in an effort to exploit Democratic vulnerabilities on such wedge issues as late-term abortion, gun control, crime and gay rights.

    Democrats hold four of the seats, but the last-minute GOP infusion of $3 million to $4 million for television spots in the Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky districts has put them on the defensive, and has emboldened Republicans to say they could win all eight seats.

    Dan Sallick, communications director for the Democratic congressional committee, declined to make a specific prediction, contending that "the entire region has a number of close races. We feel confident we are holding our own there, and it is unreal for Republicans to think they are going to sweep."

    But some of the party's candidates find themselves in the position of Roxanne Qualls, the Democratic mayor of Cincinnati and an outspoken abortion rights candidate challenging Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Qualls went on the air today with a commercial to counter Republican efforts to portray her as favoring late-term abortions.

    "I am against partial-birth abortions," she says in the ad. "I believe they should be illegal except when medically necessary to save the life or health of the mother. . . . [Stating] that I favor partial-birth abortions is wrong and Steve Chabot knows it."

    "What the Republicans are doing in two weeks is equivalent to what a normal candidate does in two years," said Peter Fenn, Qualls's media adviser. "They are putting $500,000 to $1 million in one district in a two-week blitz, and that is what most candidates spend in an entire election cycle."

    The Washington Post has been periodically reporting on races in the Ohio Valley districts throughout this year's campaign in an effort to gauge the competitive strength of the two parties in an area with the highest concentration of tight elections. The contests run the gamut.

    The Qualls-Chabot race and the Indiana contest between Democratic Rep. Julia Carson and Gary Hofmeister are battles between liberal Democratic women and conservative Republican men. Ken Lucas, a candidate for an open seat in Kentucky, is a rare example of an explicitly conservative Democrat holding his own against a Republican, Gex "Jay" Williams. The southwestern Ohio race between Rep. Ted Strickland (D) and Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister pits two centrists in a battle largely over who can get money for roads and economic development.

    In the Democratic-leaning Louisville district, Republican Rep. Anne Northup, one of the most effective fund-raisers in Congress, faces a challenge from former Kentucky attorney general Chris Gorman, who has won notoriety by attacking the GOP for devoting too much time and energy to presidential impeachment. In rural and increasingly conservative southeastern Indiana, moderate Democrat Barron Hill, a former state basketball star, is struggling to keep in Democratic hands the seat held for 34 years by retiring Rep. Lee H. Hamilton.

    The northern Kentucky district where Lucas is running against Williams, a rising star of the Christian right, tilts strongly to the GOP. And the centerpiece of Williams's media campaign has been a dark and eerie commercial showing a stark still photo of Lucas with images of President Clinton filtering in and out of the background to the sound of music normally heard during the opening of a horror movie. After accusing Lucas of raising taxes while on the Boone County Commission, the announcer warns: "Ken Lucas, a Clinton liberal right here in Kentucky."

    But the Lucas campaign has won local and national respect among Democrats for keeping Williams on the defensive from the start. Lucas has been unrelenting in his charges on the trail and on television and radio that Williams lied about his military and academic record and that he lied under oath to the state Ethics Commission.

    In addition, the state Democratic Party has begun sending "lie alerts" to voters in the district, warning that Williams is likely to begin telling voters that conservative Lucas is not "100 percent pro-life." The Democratic direct-mail pieces declare that Lucas is "a pro-life, pro-family Christian. . . . No matter how small no matter what stage of life Ken will fight to make sure Life is respected and our children born and unborn are protected."

    In Indianapolis, Carson, who voted to support Clinton's veto of the late-term abortion ban and who is in a close race with Hofmeister, began running today a last-minute commercial declaring her opposition to late-term abortions except when the mother's health is in danger and noting that she "is for increased penalties for violent offenders."

    The ad is an attempt to mute the abortion issue and counter two brutal Hofmeister commercials. One starts with color pictures of old people and children as an announcer says, "Families and seniors used to go out at night. Women felt secure at home." Then a slow-motion film clip of Carson looking sinister appears as the announcer declares: "She refused to stand up for victims. Julia Carson voted to let violent criminals and drug dealers out of prison early."

    In the other spot, a still picture of Carson, who is black, dissolves into a prison door and then to a close up a syringe and an addict. The announcer says: "Julia Carson voted to let criminals and drug dealers out of prison early. Now we learn that Julia Carson voted for a bill that would have provided free needles for those who use illegal drugs. And Julia Carson was the only Indiana member of Congress to say that the extreme practice of partial-birth abortion should continue."

    On the western edge of the region, Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.) has pulled out all the stops in an attempt to turn back the well-funded challenge of Gail Rieken, a Democratic member of the Evansville city council.

    One Hostettler radio ad not only charges that Rieken supports "special rights for homosexuals," but suggests that she would force "churches and schools to hire homosexuals," that "she is pro-abortion and even supports partial-birth abortion," that "she'll be a puppet in the hands of the radical environmental groups that have already cost us thousands of jobs" and that "she supports every gun control law on the books."

    Williams and Hofmeister are clients of Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition who now has his own consulting firm, and both will test Reed's general election skills.

    The thrust of the Williams and Hofmeister commercials are typical of the themes Republicans have been pressing with growing intensity in the last few weeks in an attempt to portray their Democratic opponents as liberal advocates of higher taxes, gay rights, soft-on-crime policies and the so-called "partial-birth" abortions. In addition, the National Rifle Association has been running pro-gun ads in support of Williams, Chabot and Ernie Fletcher in Kentucky.

    Perhaps the most controversial tactic in the campaigns was initiated by Fletcher, a Republican doctor, in his race against Democrat Ernesto Scorsone, a state senator and lawyer, for the Lexington seat of Rep. Scotty Baesler (D-Ky.), who is running for the U.S. Senate.

    Scorsone, who was considered a liberal in the state Senate, had been running commercials touting his strong support of anti-crime legislation, including his support of the death penalty. Fletcher then put up an ad in which a woman identified as "Jessica" talks to the camera:

    "It was the worst day of my life. My attacker was convicted and got six months in jail," she says, as the words "Raped. Shot twice. Left for dead." appear on the screen.

    "Ernesto Scorsone was his lawyer," the woman adds. ". . . Scorsone appealed just to get the case thrown out or the sentence reduced. Now, Scorsone is running ads telling us he's tough on crime. But he's not being honest with you."

    The campaign ads, backed up by the Republican Party's "independent" expenditures, have taken their toll on Democrats.

    "I've never felt so outgunned," said Will Robinson, who produces commercials for Carson and Strickland. "We are at the Alamo, and they are scampering over three walls. It's a totally different kind of campaign."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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