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DCCC Ads Hit Eight on Drug Vote

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched its first issue-advocacy ads of the 2004 election cycle Friday in hopes of drawing clear distinctions with House Republicans on the issue of prescription drugs.

The ads will target eight Republican Members: Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.), Max Burns (Ga.), Heather Wilson (N.M.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Sam Graves (Mo.), Charles Bass (N.H.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.) and Clay Shaw (Fla.).

Half of those Members were first elected in 2002, and the others are perennial Democratic targets. In all eight districts, seniors make up at least 35 percent of the population, according to the DCCC.

Produced by Democratic media consultant David Dixon, the ads are set to run for one week on broadcast television at a “sufficient” level to reach interested parties, according to DCCC officials. The ads center on a June 27 vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill pushed by the GOP.

“The Republican plan has no limits on premiums and a massive gap in coverage that will still cost many seniors thousands,” intones the narrator.

Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.), chairman of the DCCC, said in an interview Friday that the late-June vote essentially “gave seniors a poison pill and said, ‘This is good for you.’”

Matsui added that the vote was an example of “Republicans showing their true colors.”

The legislation passed the House 216-215 after Republicans held the vote open for nearly an hour. Nine Democrats voted with the Republican majority.

As for the timing of the ad, which comes roughly 16 months before the 2004 election, Matsui said the prescription drug issue was “hot” right now and therefore the ads would find a receptive audience.

Carl Forti, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the ad buy as meaningless.

“Sixteen months out from an election people are not paying attention and any money spent now is a waste,” he said. “The DCCC is spending money they don’t have on a policy issue to keep Republicans from helping senior citizens who need it.”

Much of the DCCC’s early effort to define the issue is part of a long-term strategy aimed at defusing expected Republican attempts to blunt Democrats’ advantage on the issue with voters, said Communications Director Kori Bernards.

“The idea is to come out and throw some punches quickly so that when we are fighting hard on this [next] November, they are weaker and it will be harder to knock [the attacks], down,” she said.

Democrats have tried before — largely unsuccessfully — to make Republican views on a prescription drug benefit for seniors a centerpiece of their national campaign.

But, argues Bernards, in the last election, Democrats controlled the Senate, ensuring that the legislation would wind up in legislative limbo and never be signed into law.

Now, with Republicans in control of all levels of the federal government, the likelihood of a GOP bill passing is substantially increased.

“[Republicans] passing this bill is a good thing” for Democrats, argued Bernards.

The ads may also have the side effect of spurring fundraising and recruitment in the targeted districts, said several knowledgeable Democrats.

“This is a smart pick-me-up for House Democrats to get on the fundraising screen,” said Jenny Backus, a former DCCC communications director. “It makes people see House Democrats have a pulse with all these pundits declaring the party dead.”

But some within their own ranks questioned the DCCC’s strategy of running ads on an issue that is likely to have significant bipartisan support if it makes it to President Bush’s desk.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was a key factor in the passage of the legislation through the upper chamber and some Democratic observers remain worried that a signing ceremony with Bush and Kennedy could dramatically affect the usefulness of the issue on the campaign trail.

“At the end of the day you will get a bipartisan bill that is supported by Democrats in the Senate and some Democrats in the House and you will have lost the issue,” said one Democratic consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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