WASHINGTON – Republicans launched an advertising campaign Friday in five key Senate races, saying that in a time of national unity, "partisan Democrats" scuttled President Bush's economic stimulus plan.
Officials said television commercials would air for the coming week aimed at Sen. Max Baucus in Montana; Tim Johnson in South Dakota and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Radio commercials will run targeting Carnahan as well as Sen. Paul Wellstone in Minnesota and Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa.
All five have been targeted for defeat by the Republicans next fall as part of their effort to overcome a one-seat Democratic majority in the Senate.
Bush, whose popularity is in the 80 percent range in public polling, is in all of the commercials -- his image as well as his voice on the television ads.
In rebuttal, a Democratic spokeswoman said it was Republicans who had declined to compromise on the stimulus legislation.
"Time and time again we put forward proposals that would have done a lot of good for people who are out of work and hurting in this country and they (Republicans) didn't vote for them either, said Tovah Ravitz-Meehan of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
While declining to provide precise details, Republicans described the advertising purchases as robust, particularly in Montana and South Dakota. They said some of the commercials would air during televised coverage of the Olympic Games, traditionally a time of heavy viewership.
One Democratic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, countered that the only television advertising in Missouri was in the area around Springfield, well away from major population centers of St. Louis and Kansas City.
Ads of this type are customarily financed by a national party committee, in this case the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which sends money to the local state parties to purchase advertising time.
The commercials seek to tap into a spirit of national unity that swept the country in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"When times are tough, Americans unite," the commercials say. "We put aside our differences and do what's best for the nation."
They say that President Bush and moderate Democrats agreed on a compromise plan for the economy -- a reference to the three moderate Democrats who joined with Republicans.
"Sadly, partisan Democrats" voted against the bill, the television commercials say.
The radio ads, worded a bit differently, say "partisan Democrats put their interests ahead of national interests."
Republicans launched the commercials in the wake of the apparent collapse this week of efforts to pass economic stimulus legislation in the Senate. Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., pulled the issue from the floor after both the Bush-backed bill and a rival Democratic plan failed to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome delaying tactics.
It marked the second time that Bush's legislation had been stymied in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Daschle blocked a vote on the White House-backed bill on the last day Congress met in 2001.
Republicans had planned to air commercials attacking Democrats in January, around the time of Bush's State of the Union address to Congress, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those plans were hastily put on hold after Daschle announced he was bringing the issue back to the floor for more debate.
Steve Hildebrand, a spokesman for Johnson, responded to the commercial by saying that the Republican candidate, Rep. John Thune "and his national Republican party have decided that the only way he can win a Senate race is to run a negative, distorted campaign against Sen. Johnson. Sen. Johnson has long stood for health care for Americans and for unemployment benefits for those who need it."
Bill Lombardi, a Baucus spokesman, said the Montana lawmaker's "willingness to work with President Bush to reach across party lines and put Washington aside is undeniable. That was evidenced by Sen. Baucus working with the president...in passing the $1.3 trillion tax cut bill last spring."