With just one month left until Election Day, congressional candidates aren't the only ones making tough decisions about how to use their last advertising dollars. National Democratic and Republican campaign committees are also becoming more disciplined spenders in these last crucial weeks, whittling down their target zones to only the closest nailbiters.
The Democrats need to capture six Senate seats to regain control of the chamber, and recent polling suggests that goal is within the minority party's reach. As Democratic candidates in some states widen their advantages, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is moving on to more vulnerable areas and funding attack ads that allow the party to shoulder the burden of negativity while the candidates boost their positives among voters.
For example, the DSCC recently signaled a shift away from states like Montana, where Democratic challenger Jon Tester's substantial lead over Republican Sen. Conrad Burns suggests he may no longer need the help. And in Minnesota, the committee cancelled an ad buy on behalf of Democrat Amy Klobuchar, who is surging past Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy (R) in the polls. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also declined to enter that race.
Instead, DSCC dollars are now making their way into Virginia. In its first foray onto the state's airwaves, the committee this week released a scathing new spot denouncing Republican Sen. George Allen's "scandals, slurs and insults" on the campaign trail. The ad represents the DSCC's first major helping hand for Democratic challenger James Webb since committee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., endorsed Webb's primary bid in June.
The DSCC also recently teamed up with embattled New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D) to help fund a hard-hitting attack ad against Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. in the expensive Garden State media markets.
Meanwhile, both parties are homing in on three of the most contested battlegrounds. In the Midwest, the DSCC spent millions attacking Republican incumbents Mike DeWine of Ohio and Jim Talent of Missouri. And as Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. closes in on Republican Bob Corker in Tennessee, the DSCC has increased its presence there as well.
The Republican National Committee is also expected to channel advertising funds to those races in the coming weeks. So far, the NRSC's advertising presence has not been as strong as that of its Democratic counterpart, but the Washington Post reports that Republican candidates locked in the tightest contests should begin to see a greater infusion of advertising dollars as the GOP settles into the last leg of its fight to retain control of the Senate.
Foley fallout hits House races
House Republicans already seemed vulnerable to losing their majority before reports of former Rep. Mark Foley's advances on congressional pages. But within days of the story breaking, Democratic candidates from New York to New Mexico were trying to drive the issue home with ads hitting Republicans on the issue.
In Indiana's 9th District, former Rep. Baron Hill (D) launched an ad that claims incumbent Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) accepted money from "the House leadership who knew about, but did nothing to stop" Foley. And in Minnesota's suburban 6th District, Democratic challenger Patty Wetterling has been running a spot expressing shock that GOP leaders "knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their own power."
Republican leaders with tough challengers are facing the most intense criticism. New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the NRCC, is the target of an ad by opponent Jack Davis (D) claiming that "Reynolds needed to keep Foley's seat in Congress. So he kept quiet." (The charges evidently had enough traction in Reynolds' district that he bought time on the airwaves to tell constituents, "Looking back, more should have been done, and for that, I am sorry.")
In one race, both candidates are trying to spin the issue to their advantage. New Mexico 1st District challenger Patricia Madrid (D), recognizing that incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson (R) served on the page board and was forced to unload Foley contributions, unveiled a spot touting her record on children's Internet safety. In response, Wilson is making the case that Madrid has a fairly spotty record on the issue as the state's attorney general. The Republican congresswoman, however, has so far shied away from bringing that argument to the airwaves.