Last ditch for the GOP
I told you she was a red diaper baby
In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal
Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats
By Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 10, 2006; A01
Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over 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, which this year dispatched a half-dozen 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 that he has sued 80 patients.
"Opposition research is power," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), the NRCC chairman. "Opposition research is the key to defining untested opponents."
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has enlisted veteran party strategist Terry Nelson to run a campaign that will coordinate with Senate Republicans on ads that similarly will rely on the best of the worst that researchers have dug up on Democrats. The first ad run by the new RNC effort criticizes Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) 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.
And with polls showing the Republicans' House and Senate majorities in jeopardy, party strategists said they have concluded that their best chance to prevent big Democratic gains is a television and direct-mail blitz over the next eight weeks aimed at raising enough questions about Democratic candidates that voters decide they are unacceptable choices.
In recent elections, Democratic officials have complained that Republicans are much better at opposition research. But Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chair the Democrats' House and Senate campaign committees, have invested more heavily in research. Notably, the researchers dig not only into Republicans, but also their own candidates. This allows Democrats to anticipate what is coming and be ready to respond quickly.
One Democratic research success this year came when Emanuel's staff combed though the archives of several universities to find a copy of an article Colorado Republican candidate Rick O'Donnell wrote for an obscure publication in the mid-1990s. A researcher eventually found the article at George Washington University. In it, O'Donnell argued that Social Security should be abolished -- a revelation that was highlighted in three sharply worded DSCC mailings in the district.
Direct-mail appeals often carry the most negative and potentially damaging messages. Dan Hazelwood, a leading GOP direct mail consultant, said that if a hypothetical Democratic candidate favors the establishment of a garbage dump in a section of the district, for instance, it makes more sense to "narrow-cast" this message by mail to the people most affected rather than buying an expensive, districtwide television ad.
The RNC's expanded role in part reflects concerns that Senate Republicans may not have enough money to take the fight to Democrats. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, under Chair Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), had $15 million less to spend than the DSCC at the end of July. But, the RNC is planning to make up the difference. The committee ended July with nearly $44 million in the bank, four times what the Democratic National Committee had on hand.
In setting up a separate arm to spend money on Senate races, the RNC is altering its past practice. In the past, the RNC simply transferred a large sum of money to the House and Senate campaign committees and let the chairmen decide how to spend it. This year, Nelson -- a former top official in the Bush reelection effort and political strategist for House Republicans -- will work with consultants Tony Feather and Curt Anderson to oversee the TV and direct-mail campaign, which by law must remain independent of coordination directly with candidates.
Also, bloggers have become really good at reaching out to reporters and getting their stories on the air and in the media.
The problem with this approach is this:
Bob Smith sued 30 people and he's rich.
Ok, gets you some play, but....
My opponent would send his gutter rats to probe around my family rather than explain why he's supported President Bush 89 percent of the time. He can't talk about his
record, all he can do is talk about my family. Congressman Jones, what's more important, my family or your Bush supporting record in Congress.
That kind of ad, turning the negativity back on the opposition negates most of the attack.
If they're planning to do to Dems what they did to Laffey, which is insane on it's face, it won't work. While the polling is shaky, the Washington money is backfiring for two reasons. One, the nasty attacks don't reflect Chaffee's personality and two, they are alienating the base like few things could.
But Dem candidates have to come out swinging hard and use every tool they have to force the issues, reaching out to bloggers, field teams, everything.
posted by Steve @ 12:45:00 AM