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Last-Minute Health Ads Target Key Members

Liberal groups, drug companies and assorted coalitions are moving to counter the heavy blitz of ads aimed at sinking the health care overhaul legislation that could be considered as soon as this week by the House.

The ads are largely playing in the Congressional districts of moderate and conservative Democrats. Those districts have become the primary battleground in the health care reform fight.

The union-backed Health Care for America Now is launching a $1.2 million ad campaign that will begin airing in 11 Congressional districts today and in three to five more districts on Wednesday. The ads target a number of lawmakers who voted against the health care bill that was approved by the House last year, including Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), John Boccieri (D-Ohio) and Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.). The spots highlight rate hikes by health insurance companies, telling viewers that “if the insurance companies win, we lose.”

While HCAN had retreated from running ads recently, spokeswoman Jacki Schechner said, “I think it is fair to say with the date of the vote becoming more certain, we recognized there were places where it would be helpful to get our message out.”

Another coalition, Americans for Stable Quality Care, which includes the drug companies as well as progressive and medical groups, is also now expected to begin a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign supporting the reform measure.

“It looks like the ads will start running this week,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a member of the coalition.

Pollack said that one coalition member, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the large drug companies, wanted to see what was in the final legislation before signing off on the media buy.

While PhRMA did not have an official comment about the advertising spots, an industry official said Monday that the group expected to have a decision on proceeding with the campaign within 24 hours.

The liberal group also announced Monday that it was releasing a 30-second television ad featuring photos of prominent American figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Roosevelt to underscore the historic nature of the health care vote.

And another progressive coalition, Americans United for Change, is running almost $500,000 in radio and television ads that target African-American audiences and feature health care remarks by President Barack Obama.

“There are a number of Members who can use some encouragement in the home stretch. They have significant African-American communities in their district,” said Jeremy Funk, a spokesman for the group. The television ads are playing on the BET network, while the radio ads are playing on black-oriented shows, including the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated that she wants to have a vote on the measure by this weekend. A number of health care opponents, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and America’s Health Insurance Plans, have announced massive advertising campaigns targeting vulnerable Democrats.

In addition, a number of conservative advocacy groups are underwriting ad campaigns in the Congressional districts and sponsoring rallies, including one planned for today near the Capitol by the Tea Party Express.

Conservatives are also expected to descend on House offices today to lobby against the bill. The Web site for the Tea Party Patriots, who are separate from the Tea Party Express, have dubbed the lobbying effort “The Surge.”

The Tea Party Patriots Web site provided guidelines for the House visits, advising activists to dress in normal clothes because “this is about country not organizations and it presents a more professional appearance.”

The organizers urge people to ask for their Democratic Representative, and if the Member is unavailable, ask when they will return. If more than an hour passes with no response, the instructions say the activists should ask to speak to the chief of staff.

“You do not want to talk to the receptionist,” the Web site advises. “If they try to brush you off because you are not from the district then explain to them that the vote they will be casting will affect all citizens of this country and therefore you should be heard.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, the U.S. Chamber, which said it will spend as much as $10 million on ads opposing the health care reform bill, released a survey by the GOP firm Ayres, McHenry & Associates that said the bill is unpopular in 10 select Democratic House districts, mostly in battleground states.

“This legislation is among the most unpopular proposals in recent memory and members of Congress would be well advised to listen to their constituents’ concerns,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the chamber, in the press release about the survey.

However, the chamber’s aggressive opposition to health care is not shared by all business owners. A group composed of small businesses called the Main Street Alliance wrote a letter to the chamber’s CEO, Tom Donohue, and to insurance executives complaining that the ad campaign was being partially financed by insurance companies.

“As small business owners we are angered and disappointed to learn that the health insurance industry is once again engaging in covert efforts to block health care reform and that the U.S. Chamber is a willing accomplice,” the letter states. Sam Blair, national director at the Main Street Alliance, said that “small businesses haven’t been represented by the U.S. Chamber and we wanted to have our voices heard.” He said the chamber was working “hand in glove” with the insurance industry, which has not had best interests of small businesses in mind.

Not all liberal groups are on the same page on health care, either. A coalition that includes the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo Action is running $75,000 in ads in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on CNN and MSNBC that rebut the claims by Pelosi that there is not enough support in the Senate to pass the public option.

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