- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2010

Amid projections of nearly 80 House seats potentially in play in November, the National Republican Congressional Committee has announced its first ad purchase of $22 million - spread out over 41 races and offering a window into where GOP strategists think they are likely to pick off Democrat-held seats.

Making the cut are races by GOP challengers in eastern Colorado, northeast Illinois and central Florida, while missing from the list are contests in northern and southwestern Virginia, and southern North Carolina.

“This list is a down payment on what is to come in the fall,” said Paul Lindsay, NRCC spokesman. “As Democrats continue to face a difficult political environment defending their job-killing agenda, our playing field is expanding and we plan to be on offense as we continue to close the financial gap in the final weeks.”

But the rival Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) focused on the competitive districts skipped by the national committee, saying the selective ad purchase reinforced their argument that the Republican class of recruits in many House races is weaker than GOP leaders want voters to believe.

“With all their bluster and all the promises they made, the NRCC is now stuck having to make tough decisions about which of their many flawed candidates with anemic fundraising have disqualified themselves as viable candidates and have to be abandoned,” said Ryan Rudominer, DCCC spokesman.

The ad push and the rhetorical jabs are early chapters to a campaign season that will determine whether Democrats preserve their majorities in both chambers of Congress in the face of widespread expectations of major Republican gains.

To tip control of the House, Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats in the 435-seat House.

Pollsters, pundits and even White House spokesman Robert Gibbs have suggested that is possible, thanks in part to a political climate that in many ways mirrors 2006. That year, voters delivered a rebuke of the Bush administration and governing Republicans by electing Democrats.

Despite the fact that their party’s overall approval rating numbers remain low, the GOP is positioned to harvest this November the protest vote against President Obama and governing Democrats.

Two Gallup polls from this week found that just 44 percent of voters approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy and that, if elections were held today, 50 percent of registered voters would vote for a Republican candidate in their district, compared with 43 percent for a Democratic candidate.

The DCCC has reserved ad time in 60 districts - 90 percent of the purchase targeting seats held by incumbents. By contrast, Republicans have reserved ad time in only one district to protect an incumbent member.

While the NRCC ad buy provided a sneak peak into the races targeted by the national Republican Party, it also provided some candidates with a public relations boost and others with a gut check heading into the post-Labor Day stretch run.

In North Carolina, the spokesman for Harold Johnson, said the Republican is focused on ousting Democratic Rep. Larry Kissel in the state’s 8th District, not on whether he gets added support from the NRCC. Mr. Johnson’s district was not targeted in the new ad purchase.

“We haven’t been and are not dependent on the NRCC or anyone else for us to execute our strategy to win in November,” said Bryan Holladay, Mr. Johnson’s spokesman. “Any support they give us will be an added bonus.”

In Virginia, Chris LaCivita, a consultant for Scott Rigell and Robert Hurt, the Republican challengers to freshman Democrats Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello, said the “NRCC’s support is an affirmation of not only our candidates and the weakness of the Democrats, but in leveling the playing field from outside groups, [allows] us to remain competitive throughout the election cycle.”

But the ad purchase left out a couple of other Virginia’s Republican hopefuls - Morgan H. Griffith, the challenger to veteran Democrat Rep. Rick Boucher in Virginia’s 9th District and businessman Keith Fimian, the challenger to freshman Gerald E. Connolly in the 11th District outside Washington, D.C.

Mr. Connolly’s spokesman, James Walkenshaw, described the snub as “a huge blow for Fimian and his effort.”

But Thomas M. Davis, a former NRCC chairman who held Northern Virginia seat for 14 years, said that people should not read too much into the early ad buys. He said the list will provide outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and the new American Crossroads with a blueprint of where to deploy their own resources without overlapping with the party.

“I think the Republicans will add to this list, not subtract,” Mr. Davis said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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