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Ad Wars: Gordon Smith Throws In With Obama

An embattled incumbent tying himself to presidential nominee is nothing new in politics. But it's usually the case that the presidential nominee being latched onto is actually of the same political party.

Not so in Sen. Gordon Smith's (R-Ore.) latest commercial, which is our "Ad Wars" pick for the week.

Let's take a look:

"Who says Gordon Smith helped lead the fight for better gas mileage and a cleaner environment," a narrator asks. "Barack Obama."

The ad goes on to note that Ted Kulongoski, the state's Democratic governor, "praised their bipartisan partnership on this critical issue."

In the ad's final moment, Smith himself appears with a unique twist on the required disclaimer in any political commercial: "I'm Gordon Smith and I approved working together across party lines, and this ad."

Think Smith knows which way the wind is blowing in his state?

In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried Oregon 51 percent to 47 percent over President George W. Bush. Just four years earlier, Al Gore won the state by less than 7,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast -- a closeness due at least in part to Green Party nominee Ralph Nader winning 5 percent of the statewide vote.

John McCain has made some news about making a serious run in the Beaver State, but it was not included in his initial ad buy of the general election and, given the national political atmospherics, it seems very unlikely that the GOP nominee will make a serious run at the state in November. Smith's decision to latch himself to Obama reaffirms that speculation.

Democrats, unsurprisingly, moved quickly to blunt any idea in voters' minds that Obama was supporting Smith.

"Barack Obama has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment and we appreciate that it is respected by his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "But in this race, Oregonians should know that Barack Obama supports [state House Speaker] Jeff Merkley for Senate."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee struck a less conciliatory tone, emailing out an Obama quote from mid-May in which he castigates Smith for supporting Bush too much of the time.

Like any presidential election, the top of the ticket is sure to have real influence on down-ballot contests. Republicans have already tried unsuccessfully to link a Democratic candidate to Obama (and Rev. Jeremiah Wright) and are sure to continue to do so in the fall.

But there is another side to the down-ballot effect too. In a place like Oregon where there is a considerable and active progressive community -- particularly in the vote-rich city of Portland and its environs -- having Obama at the top of the ticket will be a boon for Merkley who, to date, has been a less than stellar candidate.

Given the number of Senate Republicans seeking reelection in Democratic-leaning or swing states (Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Susan Collins in Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire), it's likely we will see other ads like Smith's before this campaign is over.

The real question is which politician -- Bush, McCain or Obama -- will appear in more ads paid for by Republican incumbents in swing states.

Score it Obama one, Bush and McCain zero at the moment.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 25, 2008; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Ad Wars  
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