The decision by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to cancel advertising in several battleground states that also feature targeted Senate contests this fall is worrying Democrats in at least one, Missouri, and leaving strategists scratching their heads in two others, Colorado and Louisiana.
Faced with a dwindling pot of money, Kerry has eliminated seven states from his initial crop of 20 in which his campaign began running advertisements over the summer.
Included in that list are Missouri, Colorado and Louisiana — three states in which Democrats had hoped for serious spending and attention by the Kerry campaign, under the belief that it could boost turnout and aid downballot races such as theirs. The pull-out also suggests a pessimism that could hurt morale among local party activists.
While it’s still possible that the Kerry pull-out could be reversed in certain states based on changed circumstances later in the campaign, most observers view a return to those states as unlikely at best.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) called Kerry’s decision a boon for GOP candidates.
“It shows the president is doing well,” said Allen. “The president is strong, and that is beneficial to Pete Coors, Kit Bond and David Vitter,” referring to the GOP Senate candidates in Colorado, Missouri and Louisiana.
Cara Morris, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, insisted that the presidential race has only a negligible impact on top-tier Senate races. “Senate campaigns are substantial in their own right and not subject to the vagaries of a presidential race,” she said.
Democrats remain convinced, however, that a strong showing by Kerry in Pennsylvania — one of 13 states still being heavily targeted by both presidential candidates — could provide a major boost for Rep. Joe Hoeffel’s (D) underdog challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (R).
The one state where the pull-out seems most likely to make a difference is Missouri, where state Treasurer Nancy Farmer (D) is challenging Bond, a three-term Senator.
Democratic strategists have long maintained that a major Kerry effort in Missouri was a crucial element for assembling a Farmer victory.
Few if any Democrats predicted that Kerry would walk away from Missouri, which has voted for the winning presidential candidate in all but one election in the past century. In 2000, George W. Bush won Missouri 50 percent to 47 percent over then-Vice President Al Gore, even as Democrats won gubernatorial and Senate races.
“Pulling out means that he is not going to lose by three points,” said one Democratic consultant who has worked extensively in Missouri. “That is bad for us.”
Without a strong top-of-the-ticket effort, Farmer is now deemed unlikely to topple Bond. She has trailed in fundraising, and as of July 13, Bond had $3 million more on hand.
Bond has used this financial edge to dominate the airwaves. He has been running television commercials since mid-August, while Farmer has yet to air a single ad.
Farmer spokesman Ben Yarrow insisted that while Kerry may not run a television campaign in the state, his impact will still be felt.
“We are going to benefit tremendously from the large and potent organization they have assembled,” said Yarrow.
One Democratic operative, however, echoed what others also said privately. “It makes a long shot even longer,” the operative said.
Bond campaign spokesman Rob Ostrander agreed. “Nancy Farmer is now left all alone with her left-wing positions and no presidential candidate,” said Ostrander.
The impact of a diminished Kerry presence in Colorado and Louisiana was less clear.
Colorado has been trending toward Republicans and always seemed like a tough target for the Kerry campaign.
“Kerry’s strategy in Colorado wasn’t serious,” said Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). “It was a test to see if his message could catch on.”
In 2000, President Bush won by 9 points and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole (R) beat President Bill Clinton in 1996 by 2 points. “Colorado is tough regardless of whether you have a competitive presidential,” said one Democratic consultant.
With the retirement of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R), however, Democrats have their best shot in years to reverse the Republican momentum in the Rocky Mountain State.
In the Senate race, state Attorney General Ken Salazar (D) has consistently led brewing magnate Pete Coors (R) in public polls.
And in recent surveys, Salazar is solidly outperforming Kerry. A survey taken in mid-September by the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies showed Salazar with a 53 percent to 42 percent lead over Coors, even as Bush led Kerry 45 percent to 44 percent.
An independent poll by Ciruli & Associates from roughly the same time period showed Salazar with a much narrower 46 percent to 45 percent lead over Coors. In that poll, Bush led Kerry 51 percent to 39 percent.
Cinamon Watson, a spokeswoman for Coors, said the presidential numbers in the state “are getting better and better,” which will accrue to Coors’ benefit over time.
Louisiana, which Bush carried by 8 points in 2000, is even more difficult to predict because of the state’s election laws.
On Nov. 2, Vitter will take part in an all-party primary against Rep. Chris John (D), state Treasurer John Kennedy (D) and state Rep. Arthur Morrell (D). If no one receives 50 percent, the two top votegetters, regardless of party, advance to a Dec. 4 runoff.
Because of the likelihood of a runoff, neither national party has yet focused much attention on the Louisiana race, said Zac Wright, a spokesman for John.
“Our race is about Louisiana, not national politics,” he added. “Louisianans are looking for an independent voice.”
Vitter spokesman Mac Abrahms said Kerry remains active in the state because John, Kennedy and Morrell are “surrogates promoting his campaign.” All three have endorsed Kerry, but neither John nor Kennedy has trumpeted his support of the Massachusetts Senator.
One Louisiana Democratic operative said Kerry’s diminished presence “cuts both ways” for the party’s candidates. “You don’t have [Kerry] down there, which is a good thing, but at the same time [he] is not down there defending himself,” the source said.