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updated 11/3/2006 5:19:59 PM ET 2006-11-03T22:19:59

In the final week before Election Day, congressional candidates are launching last-minute advertising blitzes to lay out their closing statements before voters hit the polls. Choosing which message to end on is decided by secret polling, local events and intuition, but some broader themes have emerged for each party as candidates make their final appeals.

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Republicans are banking on two of their staples -- national security and tax cuts -- to contrast GOP policies with their vision of a potential Democratic Congress that would be big on taxes and soft on terrorism. Democrats, meanwhile, are hammering away at two of the GOP's biggest vulnerabilities -- Iraq and President Bush -- while underlining the message of change in Washington.

Republicans: Your safety and your wallet
In 2002 and 2004, with memories of 9/11 more fresh in many minds, the GOP convinced voters that it was the party that would keep America safe. In 2006, national security is again the keystone of the Republican message, as Bush's party warns that Democrats' approach to terrorism would embolden the nation's enemies.

The Republican National Committee has one such ad, featuring images of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida training camps, that lays out "the stakes" in this election and insinuates that booting the GOP from Congress could lead to disastrous consequences. Other right-leaning groups, such as Progress For America and Citizens United, have used similar scare tactics in ads attempting to blame Democrats for lagging behind on terrorism during the Clinton years and trying to block surveillance efforts under the Bush administration.

The candidates are driving home those messages, too. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), who has been trailing his opponent in the polls for almost the entirety of the campaign, recently pulled out all the stops with a security-themed TV spot juxtaposing a photo of Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. with images of a mushroom cloud exploding and the leaders of North Korea and Iran.

In New Mexico's 1st District, where Rep. Heather Wilson is deadlocked in her race against state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, the Republican congresswoman is up with an ad suggesting that terrorist communiques would be intercepted under GOP leadership but not under the party of her opponent. Wilson has another spot hitting Madrid on taxes, the GOP's perrenial go-to issue.

The tax issue is also making a comeback in Montana, and it may be contributing to some last-minute momentum for embattled Sen. Conrad Burns (R), who recently narrowed his gap in the polls with Democratic challenger Jon Tester. The latest ad from the Burns camp implies that although the incumbent voted with fellow Montana Sen. Max Baucus -- a Democrat -- to cut taxes, Tester's stance on the issue "is too liberal for Montana."

Democrats: Had enough?
As minorities in the House and Senate and with no representation in the White House, Democrats have largely been running campaigns of opposition -- both to Bush and the war in Iraq.

A national ad buy from the September Fund in mid-October exemplified the Democrats' strategy of making the midterm elections a referendum on Bush. The spot features Americans asking questions of a leafy shrub -- "So what's our exit strategy from Iraq?" -- with no response, giving way to the punchline: It may be "ridiculous" to seek answers from that bush, but "it's also kind of ridiculous to think you're going to get an answer from" the Bush in the White House.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also been linking the president to a number of GOP candidates, from Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. In Virginia, that connection has focused primarily on Sen. George Allen's support for the president's "'stay the course' strategy in Iraq," as one DSCC ad states.

Just about every Democratic candidate locked in a tight race this cycle has run an ad blasting the Bush administration's handling of Iraq. In a final push on this front, former Democratic presidential contender and retired Gen. Wesley Clark is lending his military credibility to a couple of ad campaigns, including one for VoteVets.org that directly responds to the RNC's "ticking bomb" scenario. "If you see commercials telling you to be afraid of terrorism," Clark says in the ad, "remember: It's because of Iraq."

Taking different tacks on change
With control of Congress at stake, advertising strategies on both sides of the aisle pull in positive and negative elements of a power shift on the Hill.

The change strategy is a fundamental part of the Democrats' playbook; they echo calls for it -- "We need a new course." "We need to make a change." "Think about a new direction." -- in countless ads this cycle. Even in Rhode Island, where moderate GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee voted against the war in Iraq, a DSCC ad warns residents to vote for Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse instead, because "to change Washington we have to change the Senate."

But the GOP's ads address change from a defensive posture, warning of the implications of a power shift. Democrats "want you to vote for Brad Ellsworth so he can cast his first vote for speaker of the House for San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi," the campaign to re-elect Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., asserts in a recent radio spot. "Well, do you feel lucky? Go ahead.... Make Nancy Pelosi's day."

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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