GOP hopes to buy election with $40 million ad blitz

House Republicans have reserved more than $40 million worth of television advertising time for the fall, most of it aimed at holding seats they control, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast.

Republican incumbents in the Philadelphia area — Reps. Jim Gerlach, Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick — as well as Connecticut Reps. Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson are slated to get roughly $10 million combined in party advertising.

In the Ohio River Valley, Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio, Geoff Davis of Kentucky and Mike Sodrel of Indiana also are to benefit from advertising by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

While most of the airtime reserved so far is meant to help GOP incumbents fend off Democratic challenges, House Republicans also plan to spend millions of dollars to try to unseat several Democrats, including Chet Edwards of Texas, John Spratt of South Carolina and Leonard Boswell of Iowa. The NRCC plans to spend at least $1 million in each of those races to help GOP candidates.

House Democrats, for their part, previously reserved roughly $50 million in advertising time for the fall as they seek to pick up the 15 seats they need to win control of the House after a dozen years in the minority.

Generally, the two advertising blueprints overlap.

Democrats, for instance, have reserved advertising time to run barrages of commercials in most of the same GOP-held districts in the Midwest and Northeast where Republicans plan to defend their turf.

The Republicans’ plan calls for spending money on commercials in more than two dozen competitive congressional districts across the country.

Political advertising reservations are publicly available, providing a window into campaign playbooks that candidates and groups typically keep under wraps.

“We don’t talk about our strategy,” Carl Forti, an NRCC spokesman, said Tuesday.

Bill Burton, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman, said: “With a mess in Iraq, gas prices at new highs and public confidence in the White House and Congress at new lows, it’s no surprise that Republicans are on defense at an unprecedented level around the country.”

Information available to date shows that other GOP incumbents who are to benefit from the NRCC’s ad campaign include Reps. Heather Wilson in New Mexico and Clay Shaw in Florida, who Democrats are targeting for defeat.

Plans also call for Republicans to run commercials in hopes of winning two open seats in Ohio that Democrats currently control, as well as one in Vermont being vacated by an independent who typically votes with Democrats.

However, the GOP has not reserved advertising time to aid Rep. Chris Chocola in Indiana even though Democrats plan to spend at least $700,000 to win the district. House Republicans have told Chocola that he must fend for himself, given his personal wealth and his ability to raise large amounts of money.

Also, no advertising dollars are slated so far to help GOP Rep. Christopher Shays keep his Connecticut district even though Democrats have reserved $2 million to try to unseat him. His district in the southern part of the state watches television from the New York City media market that’s among the most expensive in the country.

The NRCC’s plans could change. The committee continues to reserve airtime and it may adjust its strategy if the political landscape shifts between now and Election Day.

The same goes for Democrats.

Neither party, for example, has scheduled advertising in the Texas district of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned from Congress in June, even though the seat is expected to be one of the most hard-fought in the country. Republican and Democratic strategists believe that both parties will end up running ads in the district before Nov. 7.

Placing reservations this far in advance allows congressional campaign committees to lock in lower advertising rates available at some television stations in the summer and ensure there is enough space left on the airwaves to run commercials benefiting their own candidates in the final days of the midterm election.

There are other strategic benefits as well.

Under the law, the NRCC, the DCCC and both parties’ Senate campaign committees must conduct their multimillion dollar ad campaigns independently from the candidates they are designed to help.

By reserving airtime now, House Republicans are letting their own candidates know how much advertising help they can expect to get from the party, if any at all. Those candidates then can plan their campaigns accordingly.

Still, there can be risks.

GOP candidates and state political parties planning their own advertising can end up counting on the NRCC’s help and become angry if the committee doesn’t follow through.

Also, because the public information is widely available, Democrats are tipped off to the GOP strategy — and can adjust their own plans to be more competitive.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press