GOP starts moving money away from hopeless races
In an attempt to hold onto power, the party is focusing more on Rep. Dave Reichert and other at-risk incumbents.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Faced with a deteriorating political climate, Republicans are scaling back planned spending on House and Senate races that now appear unwinnable in favor of shoring up enough endangered incumbents, including Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington state, to preserve the party's majorities.
Democrats would need to gain 15 seats Nov. 7 to recapture the House. Strategists believe the goal is attainable, even likely, because of high disapproval ratings for the Republican-controlled Congress and President Bush, as well as public dissatisfaction over Iraq and the fallout from the Mark Foley page scandal.
Some top Republicans privately talk about losing a minimum of 12 and as many as 30 seats. Democratic strategists see the range of potential pickups in almost identical terms.
Republicans appear to be somewhat safer in the Senate, where Democrats would need to successfully defend their incumbents while picking up six of the seven vulnerable GOP-held seats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in recent days has given back television time it had reserved in Democrat-held districts in West Virginia, South Carolina and Ohio — apparently concluding those races are beyond reach.
The savings are being redirected to an increasing number of closely contested races, including the Washington state 8th District seat held by Reichert. Democrat Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft executive, has pounded Reichert for voting with the GOP majority.
Three recent polls show the Reichert-Burner race is too close to call. In a sign of nervousness, the NRCC recently increased its ad buy for Reichert by more than $600,000, bringing the total commitment to nearly $2 million. The party spent more than $3 million during his first congressional campaign in 2004.
And as a sign of the Republican National Committee (RNC) commitment to Reichert, chairman Ken Mehlman on Oct. 6 rallied Reichert's volunteers. The RNC has transferred $300,000 to the Washington state GOP for get-out-the-vote efforts to benefit Reichert and other candidates.
"Resources are going to be allocated to help Congressman Reichert," said Tucker Bounds, Mehlman's spokesman.
Burner is receiving help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., campaigned for her on Thursday, and the group has purchased about $1.5 million in TV time for her campaign.
"Any time you spend millions of dollars communicating with voters, it is going to have an impact," Burner said.
The RNC, which also is using its substantial resources to supplement the party's Senate campaign committee, has spent virtually all its television money in three states — Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee — in hope of building a levee strong enough to save those seats and their Senate majority.
But recent events, among them the problems facing Republican Sens. George Allen in Virginia and Mike DeWine in Ohio, make the task of saving the majority even more difficult, GOP strategists privately concede.
Democrats, meanwhile, are juggling pleas for financial help from candidates in House districts once considered second-tier opportunities. Democrats have ordered polls in a dozen or more long-shot districts and now face a critical choice: place bets on a few of these districts in hope of expanding the field of competitive seats, or concentrate advertising dollars as planned on the roughly 20 to 25 districts where the odds appear most favorable.
Bill Burton, spokesman for the DCCC, said the party will look carefully before jumping in. "We're going to be polling, and we're going to look at the political dynamics and the strength of candidacies," he said. "No decisions have been made at this point."
The two House campaign committees are pouring most of their money into independent expenditure ads — most of them negative — on behalf of their candidates. As of this week, Democrats had spent or reserved about $49 million in advertising time, while Republicans had spent or reserved $56 million to $60 million. In some races, there may be no more TV time to purchase.
A summary of advertising dollars spent to date by candidates, national party committees and major outside groups, produced by a media firm called TNSMI/CMAG and obtained by The Washington Post, showed that the bulk of television money has gone into 35 House districts considered to be the most competitive.
Among those with the heaviest spending are three races in Indiana, where Republican incumbents are running scared. More than $4 million had been spent there as of the beginning of the week. Other races where money has flowed freely include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, Virginia and two districts in Connecticut.
"We're seeing [what were considered] relatively safe House districts with candidates up on the air five weeks out," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/CMAG. "They would have been on two to three weeks out at the earliest in past elections. ... No one is safe."
Even Republicans in districts dominated by conservative voters are picking up high levels of unease. Colorado's 5th District, for instance, has never elected a Democrat since its creation 34 years ago. But retiring GOP Rep. Joel Hefley has refused to endorse the party's nominee, Doug Lamborn, charging him with having run a "sleazy" campaign, and a new poll by The Denver Post found Lamborn tied with Democrat Jay Fawcett with one-quarter of the electorate undecided.
Republican officials said the race is not that close, but acknowledge the political environment is more difficult than expected. "Everyone in the country is seeing some disenchantment with Republicans," Lamborn campaign manager Jon Hotaling said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.
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