Republicans signaled retreat Thursday in their battle to retain an Arizona congressional seat, dropping plans for nonstop television advertisements through Election Day on behalf of GOP contender Randy Graf.

Officials in both parties said private polls show Graf trailing Democratic rival Gabrielle Giffords in the race to replace Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, who is retiring after 22 years in Congress.

The maneuvering shows the intense district-by-district competition for control of the House, with the two parties adjusting tactics frequently to take changing circumstances into account. Democrats must gain 15 seats this fall to capture control of the 435-member House.

In many circumstances, a decision to turn back reserved advertising time suggests a party has concluded it cannot prevail and prefers to spend its money on a more winnable race. In this case, the GOP advertising is expected to end on Oct. 3, rather than continue throughout the campaign.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, declined to discuss the organization’s advertising plans. "They haven’t won anything until Nov. 7," he said.

R.T. Gregg, a spokesman for Graf, said he did not know about the developments. He noted that by law, the GOP advertising was undertaken independent of the candidate.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "There was a reason that Jim Kolbe wouldn’t endorse Randy Graf, and that’s why national Republicans are walking away."

Kolbe declined to endorse Graf after his primary victory this month, citing "profound and fundamental differences" on several issues.

The decision came on a day party leaders clashed sharply over Graf.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic campaign committee, sent a letter to his Republican counterpart saying that Graf had the support of white supremacist David Duke. He challenged Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, chairman of the GOP campaign committee, to stop advertising immediately on Graf’s behalf, adding, "Candidates tied to white supremacists are not right for Arizona and they are certainly not right for America."

In a scathing reply, Reynolds accused Emanuel of hypocrisy. Reynolds wrote that the Democrat had tried to recruit a candidate in Pennsylvania last year who "used the n-word with regard to his employees, a controversy that led to a local chapter of the NAACP calling for his removal from office. Your noble response was to stress that ‘there are two sides to every story,’" Reynolds wrote.

Graf defeated four opponents to win the primary on Sept. 12, running as the most conservative of the group. Immigration was a key topic in the race, with Graf emphasizing his determination to secure the border with Mexico and crack down on illegal immigrants.

Both parties sought to influence the outcome of the primary.

In an unusual move, the NRCC ran ads supporting Steven Huffman, and strategists at the time said they believed Graf could not be elected in the district.

Democrats, calculating that Graf would be easier to defeat in November, ran commercials attacking Huffman.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press

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