- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Democrats yesterday said they will link Republicans in power with President Bush as often as possible in the 100 days leading up to the midterm congressional elections.

To drive home this point, leaders of the minority party previewed a political ad they say will show that the Nov. 7 election will be decided on national issues such as Mr. Bush’s insistence that the United States “stay the course” in Iraq.

The new Web ad shows several clips of Mr. Bush using the phrase “stay the course,” contrasted with statistics on the national debt, record-high gas prices and increased health care and college costs for middle-class families.

“His message: Stay the course,” the ad states. “Our message: A new direction. Now. Vote Democrats … for a change.”

The new ad went live on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Web site yesterday, just before the House adjourns for more than five weeks so members can return to their districts and campaign for re-election.

“This election is very simple,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Republican, who leads the DCCC. “We are the party of a new direction.”

Republicans say the fall election will not be a national referendum on Mr. Bush, who has low approval ratings.

“As Republicans we’ve already been through the idea of nationalizing an election, and it doesn’t work,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican. “This was tried in ‘98 and failed.”

In 1998, Republicans expected to make wide gains by criticizing the Clinton White House, which at the time was battling the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Democrats ultimately gained five seats that year.

Mr. McHenry acknowledged that polls trend against Republicans nationally, but contended that it’s a rare thing when a congressional race turns national.

“It’s local choices, local issues and individual candidates that will drive this election,” he said. “An election doesn’t operate in a vacuum.”

Still, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says the majority party is running scared in the run-up to the midterms.

“All the ads that we have seen from Republicans don’t mention one word: Bush,” he said. “Very few of them mention a second word: Republican. They know there needs to be change too.”

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a U.S. Senate candidate, gave a background briefing to reporters this week where he said running as a Republican was like being marked with a “scarlet letter.”

After The Washington Post published the comment, citing a Republican Senate candidate, Mr. Steele’s campaign revealed that he was the candidate quoted. During the briefing, Mr. Steele both praised and criticized Mr. Bush.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Mr. Bush with a 39 percent approval rating, while a separate National Public Radio poll released yesterday showed Democrats in good standing in the top 50 congressional races.

“The American people have had enough of this president and certainly enough of this Congress,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

A DCCC spokeswoman said the “stay the course” ad could be aired on television in competitive districts, but no plans have been made to do so.

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