Wednesday, May 17, 2006

G.O.P. Voters to Be Target of Radio Ads by Democrats

The New York Times
G.O.P. Voters to Be Target of Radio Ads by Democrats

WASHINGTON, May 16 — House Democrats, trying to capitalize on conservative dissatisfaction with Republicans, are reaching out to Christian voters with radio advertisements critical of Republican proposals to overhaul Social Security.

In a campaign tied to appearances by President Bush on behalf of House candidates later this week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought time on stations with Christian and conservative audiences to try to remind those who traditionally vote Republican of their party's plan to add private investment accounts to Social Security.

While Republicans have stepped up efforts in recent years to cut into traditional Democratic strength among Catholics, Hispanics and older Americans, among other groups, the radio campaign is a rare effort by Democrats to appeal to a dependable Republican constituency.

"We are going to keep them back on their heels and make them compete for their own base," said Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, chairman of the House campaign organization.

Republicans scoffed at the idea, saying Democrats were wasting their money in a fruitless pursuit of some of the Republican party's most loyal voters. They said it represented a Democratic search for a campaign theme that could find traction and was coming too early to make any difference in November.

"They are going to throw stuff on the wall and hope something sticks," said Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, Mr. Emanuel's counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee. "This is this week's trial."

Mr. Emanuel and other Democrats say they chose Social Security because polls suggest that frequent churchgoers and fundamentalist Christians are resistant to the idea of making Social Security more like a private investment account, a view Christian conservative leaders have reflected in their own statements.

In an advertisement scheduled to begin running Wednesday in five House districts in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia, an announcer says that "retirement has become an uncertain time for many of us." The commercial goes on to suggest that the Social Security approach championed by Mr. Bush and many Congressional Republicans could undermine the stability of the retirement program while adding $2 trillion in federal debt.

Mr. Emanuel said the advertisement raised the debt issue to spotlight another sore spot among conservatives — the level of spending overseen by Republicans in Congress. The rise in the debt limit and criticism of the growth in federal spending bills is adding to unrest among conservatives that is contributing to low public support for Congress. Even if the party is unable to convert conservatives, the advertisements could help hold down Republican support in districts where races could be tight.

Mr. Bush's push to create private accounts as part of the Social Security system stalled last year because of stiff Democratic resistance and Republican unease about inviting political attacks over tinkering with the retirement program.

Changes in the program are off the Congressional agenda at the moment, but Democrats are still trying to inject Social Security into the campaign dialogue through the radio advertisements and a series of political events in districts featuring tight races.

The Democratic campaign arm said the five incumbents who are the targets of the advertisements — Representatives Geoff Davis of Kentucky, John Hostettler of Indiana, Michael E. Sodrel of Indiana, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Thelma D. Drake of Virginia — were on record endorsing the president's plan for private accounts. Mr. Bush is scheduled to appear at fund-raising events on Friday on behalf of Ms. Drake and Mr. Davis.

The advertisements, which cost about $100,000, will run for about a week.