A small group of Republican and Democratic House candidates have landed on lists they all had hoped to avoid.
Making the first one amounts to a political death notice. It's made up of once-promising nominees whose bids are faltering in the campaign's closing days. Now, the national political parties are cutting off their life support -- that is, money.
The second list is not quite as dire. On it are candidates suddenly considered more vulnerable than expected. The opposition national parties have decided to pour in more cash for television ads in hopes of knocking them off. "With these guys, we smell blood in the water," said one operative involved in the decision-making process.
With the election 10 days away, the six key national committees -- the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and each party's Senate and House campaign organizations -- are making hectic, poll-driven decisions about where to put money, and where not to. These decisions, which chiefly determine where final television ad blitzes will occur, doom some candidacies and resurrect others.
The money-shifting will continue almost to the last day, but the pattern so far suggests that Democrats face a very tall hurdle to regain the House majority, which they lost eight years ago. They need to gain six seats, but some "must-win" Democratic candidates are in trouble, and the number of GOP-held seats in play may be too small to make the Democrats' goal possible.
Top strategists for both parties say the Nov. 5 elections lack powerful nationwide issues, and voters are showing little enthusiasm. In that scenario, they say, the Republicans' money advantage may prove crucial.
"It's a war of attrition, there are no national trends, so money is critical," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP, he said, has a 2-to-1 cash advantage going into the closing days and a 5-to-1 advantage in "hard money," the donations that can be used for all political purposes.
"They have a cannon," said a key Democratic strategist. "We have some candidates who are drowning without money."
One of those faltering is Nevada's Dario Herrera, once promoted by Democrats as the ideal politician to win a new, suburban Las Vegas district. But a barrage of attack ads challenged his integrity and damaged his prospects.
After putting $1.2 million into the race, national Democratic committees are backing out. Herrera has put the best face on the circumstances, saying he asked the party committees to pull out because he did not want more negative advertising.
There are positive developments for Democrats, including last-minute findings that two GOP incumbents, Felix Grucci (N.Y.) and Robin Hayes (N.C.), and one seemingly safe nominee for an open Oklahoma seat, Tom Cole, may be beatable.
Grucci, who once appeared safely en route to a second term, provoked a firestorm with an ad charging that his opponent, Southampton College provost Tim Bishop, had "turned his back" on rape victims at the college. Local newspapers denounced the commercial, and Newsday, the area's dominant newspaper, endorsed Bishop. Now, the Democratic and Republican congressional committees are buying television time in the district, although Democrats are limiting themselves to cable in the expensive Long Island market while Republicans are buying both cable and costlier network time.
Cole, in Oklahoma, was hurt by an ad by his Democratic opponent, Darryl Roberts, a Marine artillery officer during the Vietnam War. The ad said Cole "dodged the draft by enrolling in graduate school and getting deferment after deferment."
In North Carolina, many Democrats had discounted the ability of Chris Kouri, who defeated the establishment-backed candidate in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, to defeat Hayes. But recent polling suggests Hayes is vulnerable in his textile-heavy district because of his vote for "fast-track" trade legislation.
But these potential Democratic wins are more than offset by possible losses in key races. Republicans claim -- and back it up with money for television -- that they are mounting effective challenges to several Democratic House incumbents, and GOP nominees are holding their own in some open seats Democrats had hoped to carry.
Sources in both parties say that in Georgia's new 12th District, which was designed to elect a Democrat, the Democratic nominee, Augusta businessman Charles Walker Jr., is in trouble in his race against Max Burns (R), a professor at Georgia Southern University. Burns has aired ads citing Walker's arrests when he was in his early twenties and accusing Walker of providing telephone services to prison inmates at $10 a minute. The ads may, however, backfire in the wake of newspaper reports challenging their accuracy.
In California's 18th District, represented by defeated Rep. Gary Condit (D), the lines were redrawn to make it safer for a Democrat. But Republicans are investing money there, claiming the race between Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D) and state senator Dick Monteith (R) is winnable.
The GOP is putting last-minute cash into efforts to oust three Democratic incumbents: Reps. Chet Edwards (Tex.), Julia Carson (Ind.) and Karen L. Thurman (Fla.). Democrats predict the three will survive.
In fights for three open seats where both parties have invested heavily, Democratic and Republican sources say recent trends probably favor the GOP: Alabama's 3rd District, pitting state Rep. Mike Rogers (R) against Joe Turnham, who is running a second time; Colorado's 7th District with former state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) running against former state GOP chairman Bob Beauprez; and Arizona's 1st District, where Hispanic businessman George Cordova (D) is running against businessman Rick Renzi (R).
In the Senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has had a good fundraising year, is risking money on two long shots: in Tennessee, where Rep. Bob Clement (D) faces former governor Lamar Alexander (R), and in Maine, where Democrat Chellie Pingree trails Sen. Susan Collins (R) in polls. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in turn, continues to promote the campaign of election commissioner Suzanne Terrell in a multicandidate race against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in an effort to force a runoff by keeping Landrieu under 50 percent in the state's all-candidates election on Nov. 5.