House Democrats launch first TV ad of fall race

July 15, 2008 6:31:43 PM PDT
House Democrats launched the first television commercial by either party Tuesday in the 2008 battle for control of Congress, criticizing a Republican challenger in Pennsylvania as a friend and supporter of an unpopular President Bush.

Republican Lou Barletta "may be George Bush's friend. But he's no friend of the middle class," says the commercial. The president's image appears before the candidate's is seen, and never leaves the screen in the 30-second ad.

Barletta is running against Rep. Paul Kanjorski, who has been accused of ethical lapses in the past, and Republicans said the television ad campaign signaled problems ahead for him.

"It's pathetic that Kanjorski is such a corrupt and inept politician that the DCCC has to go on the air before Labor Day with a two-week ad buy to try and save his bacon," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid for the advertising through an independent expenditure.

Officials put the cost of the advertising at about $150,000 across three weeks, the opening salvo of what will undoubtedly be a multimillion-dollar attempt by both political parties to sway voters in November. All 435 House seats will be on the ballot.

The use of Bush ? whose approval ratings are below 30 percent in the fall campaign ? is also likely to recur as Democrats attempt to expand their majority in the fall.

Democrats hold a 236-199 House majority in the current Congress. Republicans, reeling from the loss of three seats in special elections in recent months, concede they are unlikely to regain control in a political environment in which Bush is unpopular and voters say they want change.

Additionally, the Democratic committee reported more than $47 million in the bank at the end of May. The Republican counterpart group had $6.7 million.

Democrats recently reserved advertising time for 31 congressional districts, the majority of them currently in Republican hands.

That made the choice of Kanjorski a telling one, underscoring concern among Democrats that he faces a stiff challenge at the hands of Barletta, a mayor of Hazelton, Pa.

Kanjorski has long been trying to deflect political fallout from having said last summer that Democrats "sort of stretched the facts" before the 2006 election by implying the party could end the Iraq war.

"We didn't say it, but we implied it, that if we won the congressional elections, we could stop the war. Now anybody who was a good student of government knew that wasn't true. But you know, the temptation to want to win back the Congress, we sort of stretched the facts," he said in a town hall meeting, a videotape of which is widely available on the Internet.

In recent years, he has also battled allegations of wrongdoing for funneling congressional earmarks to a company owned by family members.

He won re-election in 2006 with ease, but Republicans recruited Barletta in hopes of winning the seat in the region around Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democrats, said of the ad, "We have been aggressive all cycle, acting early and often. This is no different."

The commercial says Barletta supported Bush's "failed economic policies," including tax cuts for the wealthy.

"... And both have supported privatizing Social Security. Putting our retirement at risk," it says.