Economy the focus of heated political ads
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats and Republicans are waging battle on the airwaves, trading barbs over failed efforts to approve legislation to counter the recession.
The ads offer an early indication of the central role the economy may play in this year's congressional elections.
In the latest move, five Senate Democrats are responding with radio and TV ads after being targeted with Republican spots accusing them of opposing the economic stimulus bill.
Although each of the Democratic ads is different, they have common themes.
They chastise Republicans for running "negative attack ads," while reminding voters of their support for President Bush, still holding sky-high approval ratings, in his efforts to fight terrorism.
"You may have heard those out-of-state radio ads running from Washington, D.C., attacking Iowa's Sen. Tom Harkin," says an ad from the Iowa Democratic Party. "Tom Harkin strongly supports President Bush's campaign to combat terrorism and make America stronger."
A radio ad from the Missouri Democratic Party says, "At a time when our nation is pulling together, our senator -- Jean Carnahan -- is being attacked with negative TV and radio ads. The attacks aren't just negative. They're misleading and unfair."
GOP targets Democrats facing tough races
The GOP ads, put out by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, are aimed at five Senate Democrats facing tough re-election battles this year -- Harkin, Carnahan, Max Baucus of Montana, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota.
This year's elections could tilt the balance of power in the Senate -- where Democrats now have a one-seat majority -- and in the House, where Republicans hold a narrow edge.
The Republican ads call the senators "partisan Democrats," accusing them of failing to support a "compromise" bill to boost the economy and help the unemployed.
"A lot of people have lost their jobs and don't have health care," says one GOP ad in Montana. "But sadly, partisan Democrats -- like Max Baucus -- voted against that compromise."
On Tuesday, John Breaux, D-Louisiana, a centrist lawmaker who worked with Bush in an attempt to reach a compromise on a stimulus bill, told reporters the Republican ads were disingenuous and should be withdrawn.
Breaux and other Democrats say the ads do not tell the whole story -- that the five Democrats supported a "compromise" economic stimulus bill, just a different version than the one that Bush backed.
"I just think it doesn't behoove anyone to target people who've shown a willingness to work together and be cooperative with a cooperative spirit," Breaux said. "If anything can kill the effort to work together, it's politics as usual."
Democrats predict GOP spots will backfire
Democratic strategists maintain the GOP ads will backfire against Republicans, and Bush in particular.
"This is not smart politics," said a Democratic Party strategist. "They may be powerful ads, but no one wants to see their commander in chief during wartime attacking someone in the middle of the Olympics. This is the president that said he wanted to change Washington, and these ads betray that."
Three of the Democrats targeted -- Baucus, Carnahan and Johnson -- voted for Bush's $1.3 trillion tax cut last year. Since GOP tax policies are popular in their states, the senators used the ads to remind their constituents that they stood with Bush on his tax cut.
"A year ago, tax relief was said to be a political impossibility," says a TV ad for Baucus, featuring footage of Bush. "Today it becomes a reality because of bipartisan leadership of members like Max Baucus of Montana."
A Democratic ad in Missouri reminds voters that "Sen. Carnahan was one of only 12 Democrats who crossed party lines to support President Bush's tax cut."
Aides to the targeted Democrats said evidence so far shows the ads are not hurting their candidates. They said that the negative GOP tone is attracting voters to their side.
But Republicans maintain their ads will have an effect because the economic stimulus bill failed to get through the Democratic-controlled Senate. GOP strategists said they believe voters were banking on congressional action.
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