- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

The national campaign committees of both parties are fine-turning their money-spending strategies for the last four weeks of the midterm election season.

At least for the time being, Republicans are not expected to redirect money set aside for the Senate contest in New Jersey to other competitive contests a possibility that was raised earlier after surprise twists and turns in that race.

The GOP is also taking a second look at the race for governor in Georgia, where Republican challenger Sonny Perdue's grass-roots campaign trails by 6 percentage points behind Gov. Roy Barnes despite the Democrat's 17-to-1 funding advantage.

The Perdue campaign says Mr. Barnes has intimidated business donors into withholding contributions. As a result, Mr. Perdue has no money for television advertising and has not aired a TV ad since winning the Republican primary in August, the campaign says.

"We have been fighting a nuclear war with conventional weapons," said Perdue spokesman Dan McClagan. "Washington has airlifted in some food and ammunition, but one more case of rifles and we will be able to topple this Barnes dictatorship."

President Bush is scheduled to make a fund-raising trip to Georgia next Thursday to help raise money for Mr. Perdue and Rep. Saxby Chambliss' Senate contest. Some Republicans privately argue that Mr. Perdue needs at least a modest emergency injection of campaign cash immediately, but officials are publicly noncommittal.

"We are pretty ginned up about Sonny Perdue and think he has a good chance of winning," said Kirsten Fedewa, spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association. "But we're going to keep our financial strategy private for the final weeks of the campaign."

Democrats, for their part, are feeling better about the New Jersey Senate contest after the Supreme Court this week refused to interfere with the party's substitution of former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg for scandal-plagued Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Each party wants to keep the other's money tied up in the expensive New Jersey media market for as long as possible.

"New Jersey is still in play," said a senior official for a national Republican campaign committee. "It's very doable, and Democrats will have to spend money there no matter what."

Republicans had been poised to start redirecting money to other races in the immediate wake of the Democrats' Lautenberg-for-Torricelli switch.

But polls showed New Jersey voters thought the substitution was unfair and the contest between Mr. Lautenberg and Republican Doug Forrester is so close that "we'll be watching it day by day," a national Republican official said.

National Republicans, however, are close to exasperation with Republican Bill Simon's error-filled campaign for governor of California.

Polls show Mr. Simon within striking distance of Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. The best news for the White House, which has sent the president, the first lady and Cabinet officials to California to raise money for Mr. Simon, is that he finally has effective TV ads running statewide.

He also did well earlier this week in the first and only scheduled debate with Mr. Davis.

But Mr. Simon made another misstep when he first accused Mr. Davis of illegal fund raising, then was forced to back away from the claim Tuesday after the release of a photograph that contradicted the charge.

The day before the latest Simon gaffe, a Bush administration official said privately, "I absolutely do not think California is done. I think there is still an opportunity there."

Yesterday, however, a national Republican campaign committee official said of the California race: "It is not out of reach to win, but it is getting close to that."

Both parties, as always loath to reveal their respective strategic shifts, say for the record that they are sticking with their original blueprints for allocating money among Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates.

"On strategy, I think we are playing a ball-control offense right now," said Terry Nelson, Republican National Committee deputy chief of staff.

He agreed with Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri that the top three targeted races for both parties are the Senate contests in South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri.

"We have no plans to change our strategy for distributing money a month out from the elections," Miss Palmieri said.

"My general sense is, I don't think there has been a big change in asset allocation," a senior Bush administration official said.

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