Moving quickly to capitalize on President Bush’s slight slippage in recent polling, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched ads in three key House races that attempt to link Republican House incumbents to the top of the GOP ticket.
DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) said that the ads currently running against Reps. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Anne Northup (R-Ky.) are the leading edge of a broader effort to hold GOP Members, especially those sitting in Democratic-leaning seats, accountable for the Republican record over the past four years.
“In those districts where the Republican incumbent is voting 90 percent of the time with the president, voters have to take a second look at them,” said Matsui. “It is a theme that we feel is very important.”
The DCCC is likely to extend its Bush ad campaign to Rep. Christopher Shays’ (R-Conn.) 4th district among others, according to Matsui.
The committee also began airing an ad Friday in New York’s 27th district, an open seat, that features side-by-side images of Bush and Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples, the Republican nominee.
Carl Forti, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, insisted that these Bush ads are simply the latest incarnation of Democrats trying to gin up a winning message.
“Democrats continue to believe that they are going to take back the House with a national breeze,” said Forti. “As much as [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [Calif.] and Mr. Matsui huff and puff, they still haven’t been able to manufacture one.”
The NRCC is set to launch an ad this week in Utah’s 2nd district that hits Rep. Jim Matheson (D) for endorsing Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) candidacy for president.
It is the first ad of the cycle funded by the NRCC that seeks to use Kerry as an anchor on a Democratic incumbent.
Matheson is not a surprising choice, as his southern Utah district is one of the most Republican seats in the country held by a Democrat. Bush received 67 percent there in 2000.
The attempt to inject the president into a Congressional race is most striking in Connecticut’s 2nd district, where Simmons is seeking a third term.
In a DCCC ad that began running Oct. 5, Simmons’ face is morphed into that of Bush as a narrator says the Republican “voted for George Bush’s economic plan” and “sided with Bush to repeal safety regulations for workers.”
Recent polling in the district suggests that the ad may find fertile ground.
A University of Connecticut poll that was in the field the first two days of October showed Simmons with a narrow 38 percent to 34 percent lead over former Norwich City Councilman Jim Sullivan (D) despite the fact that the Republican incumbent was thought of favorably by 58 percent of those tested and Sullivan is little-known.
The narrowness of Simmons’ lead seems a likely result of top-of-the-ticket drag. Kerry led Bush by 19 points in the 2nd district in the same poll and it was in the field immediately following the first presidential debate, which was widely viewed as a victory for Kerry.
The story was similar in surveys in Kentucky and New Mexico where Northup and Wilson led their Democratic challengers but were unable to crest the crucial 50 percent barrier; Kerry led Bush in both polls.
Simmons’ chief of staff, Todd Mitchell, acknowledged that “the president’s numbers right now are not helping us” but expressed confidence that the Congressman’s past electoral success and record of independence will insulate him from being painted as a tool of Bush.
“Rob has been in this position before,” said Mitchell, noting that in 2000 Simmons knocked off 10-term Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D) even as Al Gore was carrying the district by 14 points.
In 2002, Simmons won a more convincing 54 percent to 46 percent victory over former state Rep. Joe Courtney (D) in a seat made slightly more Democratic in the redistricting process.
Matsui argued that comparisons to 2000 are not apt for two reasons.
First, the Democratic base is significantly more energized this cycle because of its distaste for the president.
“With Bush, Democrats detest him at a personal and a major policy level,” said Matsui.
Also, Republicans have controlled the presidency, the House and the Senate for the past two years meaning that “voters know who is responsible for the government,” Matsui asserted. “Divided government gets people off the hook.”
Even so, Simmons has compiled one of the most moderate voting records in the GOP Conference and has endorsements that run the ideological gamut from the League of Conservation Voters to the National Rifle Association.
“The challenge that we have is to get people to see Rob Simmons as a Connecticut Republican,” said Mitchell.
The challenge is much the same for Northup and Wilson, both of whom are regular Democratic targets due to the underlying demographics of their districts.
The DCCC ad that began running last week in Northup’s Louisville-based 3rd district shows Bush saying “the economy is strong and growing stronger” followed by an image of Northup praising the current economic climate as a “good time.”
The ad goes on to detail that 30,000 jobs have been lost — more than half of them in Louisville — since the start of the Bush administration.
“If that’s the Bush-Northup good time then they deserve to be on an unemployment line too,” the ad’s narrator says.
Northup’s largest margin of victory — 53 percent — came in 2000 as Gore was carrying the district 50 percent to 48 percent.
In the most recent independent poll in the race, Northup led Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk Tony Miller (D) 47 percent to 40 percent even as Kerry led Bush 48 percent to 44 percent in Jefferson County, the population center of the seat.
The story is much the same in New Mexico, where Wilson held a razor-thin 45 percent to 44 percent lead over state Sen. Richard Romero (D) in a new independent poll out last week. That same survey showed Kerry leading Bush 46 percent to 43 percent statewide.
Pressing that advantage, the DCCC’s latest ad in the Albuquerque-based district says that “when Heather Wilson has to choose between George Bush’s priorities and New Mexico’s, she sides with Bush almost nine out of 10 times.”
Wilson represents perhaps the most evenly divided district in the country and has never won with more than 55 percent of the vote.
But, in the presidential year of 2000, Wilson beat back a serious challenge from a former U.S attorney by 7 points; Gore won the district that year 48 percent to 47 percent.
Forti said that in spite of the Democratic leanings of the three aforementioned seats, the quality of the incumbents will keep them from any negative associations with the president.
“They are all excellent at representing their districts and knowing what their constituents want,” he said. “We have built these races from the ground up to withstand any influence of other races.”