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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Strategy Clues Emerge in New GOP Ad Campaigns

Conservative and Republican surrogate organizations are launching their fall midterm ad campaigns this week in a big way — big enough to overshadow ad spending by pro-Democratic groups. The ads offer interesting insights to what the GOP perceives as pivotal constituencies, Democratic weak spots and, perhaps the GOP’s vulnerabilities. As Jeremy P. Jacobs reports in his Hotline On Call post, “Starting Lineup: 60 Plus Steps Into The Election“:

…60 plus, which bills itself as the conservative alternative to AARP, is going up with nearly $4M worth of ads in 10 congressional districts Thursday and Friday. The group plans to stay up with the ads for four weeks and this is just the beginning of what 60 plus plans to spend this year, a source with the campaign tells Hotline On Call.
The ads are another example of the advantage Republicans hold this year among third party groups. When added to the millions the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads are spending, 60 Plus’ ads show that the Democrats are at a distinct disadvantage this year in this area.
The ads are all similar. They feature testimonials from senior citizens and criticize the Democrat in the race for backing health care reform and siding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Jacobs links to this sample ad, said to be similar to others, which strikes me as more ‘preaching to the choir’ than crafted to win swing voters. Here it is:

What is interesting about the ’60 plus’ ad is the targeting of seniors, as well as the shameless fear-mongering about HCR. But does sneering at “liberals” really win any new hearts and minds? Perhaps it’s a ‘turn-out-the-base’ ad, a clue to the GOP’s overall strategy. In this opening series, they may be banking that most swing voters will stay at home, or perhaps they will address swing voters in another ad later on.
Clearly, the Republicans are not taking seniors for granted, hopefully because their internal polling indicates many seniors have a problem with Republican fooling around with Social Security and Medicare. There should be more than enough material for Dems and progressive groups to launch a counter-offensive targeting seniors. The problem is money to buy ads. Now would be a good time for Democrats to contribute to support pro-Democratic ads, since time and available ad space is limited.
Jacobs says the ad buys are targeted to specific House races:

The ad buys are in districts that are both must wins for the GOP this year — such as Rep. Allen Boyd’s (D) FL 02 and Rep. John Boccieri’s OH 16 — and districts that would likely represent the GOP winning back the majority — such as Rep. Joe Donnelly’s IN 02 and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ in AZ-08.
The districts, broken down below, do share one common thread: In each, the Republican challenger is at a substantial cash-on-hand disadvantage to the Democrat. These ads, like the other conservative third-party group ads, will be critical to GOP challengers’ — and the NRCC’s — efforts to combat the Dems’ cash advantage.
The ads will go up in the following districts on Thursday, with the size of the ad buys in parenthesis: AZ 01 ($395K), AZ 05 ($460K), AZ 08 ($164K), FL 02 ($340K), FL 08/24 (same ad — $925K), PA 03 ($194K), PA 11 ($250K), TN 08 ($485K)….Ads will go up in OH 16 ($463K) and IN 02 ($200K) on Friday.

Jacobs also links to a GOP ad for the campaign to hold Republican Senator Richard Burr’s seat. This one seems more designed to win swing voters, albeit with the shopworn ‘Democrats are spendthrifts’ meme. What gives it additional buzz is that the same actors were featured in a pro-Democratic ad which was credited with helping to unseat Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole two years ago — a clever idea. I’m not sure it’s effective, though. You decide:

Note that seniors are also the lead characters in this ad, although a 20-something woman is thrown into the mix to cover another demographic they are worried about. I would hazard a guess that Elaine Marshall, his opponent, is polling well with young women in NC. This ad requires a more creative response to piggy-back on the existing ad buzz in this campaign (maybe a humorous depicting of Burr as an empty suit, or maybe The Invisible Man, since his lack of concrete accomplishments is already a bit of a meme in NC political circles). But Democrats would be well-advised to take the senior vote as seriously as do their adversaries.
The other thing that these ads share in common is that they are attack-focused, with a little “not like us/me” tacked on at the end of the NC ad. There’s not much else an obstructionist party can do but attack the pro-active party and its candidates. In response, Democratic challengers and incumbents alike should not waste too much time playing defense. The “He/she distorted my record” whine is the swan song of the loser. Especially for the post-Labor Day segment of midterm campaigns, the best defense is a ferocious counter-attack in ads and in every opportunity for media sound-bites.
The formidable challenge for Dems in the coming weeks is adequate funding for ads. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is reportedly budgeting $75 million for political ads, almost all of it for defeating Democrats. Many other conservative groups have ponied up big bucks for ads to defeat Democrats. Such are the rancid fruits of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission.

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