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GOP war chests on the attack
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest in the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which this year assigned six operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.
The hope is that a vigorous effort to "define" opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall. The first round of attacks includes an ad that labeled a Democratic candidate in Wisconsin "Dr. Millionaire" and noted he has sued 80 patients.
"Opposition research is power," said Rep. Thomas Reynolds of New York, the NRCC chairman. "Opposition research is the key to defining untested opponents."
The Republican National Committee (RNC) enlisted veteran party strategist Terry Nelson to run a campaign that will coordinate with Senate Republicans on ads that also will rely on the best of the worst researchers have dug up on Democrats.
The first ad run by the new RNC effort hits Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, for voting against proposals designed to toughen border protection and deport illegal immigrants.
Because challengers tend to be little-known compared with incumbents, they are more vulnerable to having their public image framed by the opposition through attacks and unflattering personal revelations.
With polls showing the Republicans' House and Senate majorities in jeopardy, party strategists said they have concluded their best chance to prevent big Democratic gains is a television and direct-mail blitz in the next eight weeks aimed at raising enough questions about Democratic candidates that voters decide they are unacceptable alternatives.
"When you run in an adverse political environment, you try to localize and personalize the race as much as you can," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
In a memo released last week, Cole, who is running to succeed Reynolds at the NRCC, expanded on that strategy. The memo recommended that vulnerable incumbents spend $20,000 on a research "package" to find damaging material about challengers and urged that they "define your opponent immediately and unrelentingly."
Republicans plan to hit Democratic candidates over their voting records, business dealings and legal tussles, the GOP officials said.
Democrats' hopes for the most part hinge on being able to nationalize the election and turn it into a referendum on the Iraq war, President Bush and the performance of the Republican Congress, all faring poorly in polls this year.
Bush will try to make terrorism the issue nationally, casting the election as a choice between two distinct approaches for protecting the nation. Beyond that, however, most Republicans want to distance their elections from the national context.
As in past elections, the bulk of negative advertising probably will be delivered by party committees, allowing candidates to distance themselves from the trash-talking messages that turn off some voters.
Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District offers an example. Earlier this summer, the NRCC sent a staff member to look through court records, government and medical documents and local newspapers to find embarrassing information about physician Steve Kagen, one of the leading Democratic candidates in an important swing district, a NRCC aide said.
The researcher discovered Kagen's allergy clinic has sued more than 80 patients, mostly for failing to pay their bills.
A new NRCC ad airing in the Green Bay area warns: "What Dr. Millionaire doesn't want you to know is his clinic left more than 80 patients behind — suing them. That's right, suing more than 80 patients."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company