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MoveOn.org Targets McCain in Iowa and New Hampshire

Over the past several election cycles, Moveon.org has demonstrated a willingness to throw its weight around in the political process.

Today provides yet another example, as the influential liberal group is up with television commercials intended label Sen. John McCain -- the leading Republican candidate for president in 2008 -- as the leading supporter of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.

In the ad, as images of McCain and President Bush flash across the screen, a narrator intones: "John McCain has done more than just embrace George Bush's failed policy in Iraq. It's actually his idea to escalate the war there." (Watch it below.)

Tom Mattzie, Moveon's Washington director, echoed that theme in an interview with intrepid washingtonpost.com political producer Ed O'Keefe. "McCain's been for escalation since before Bush was for escalation," he said.

The ad went up today and will run for the next week in Iowa and New Hampshire, which, not coincidentally, are poised to cast the first votes of the 2008 campaign. The ad is running at 400 gross rating points in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities media markets in Iowa, and in the Manchester market in New Hampshire. Moveon is also running the commercial on cable television nationally with a specific emphasis on New York City and Washington, D.C. Moveon is spending $230,000 on the ad buy.

Mattzie said targeting McCain is part of a broader strategy to get the group's message through to all of Congress. "He is an opinion leader among Republicans, and we believe that a way out of Iraq will probably necessarily require a bipartisan consensus in Congress," Mattzie said. "If we demonstrate there's a political price, then we've moved the ball forward against escalation, and moved the ball forward on getting us out of Iraq."

For those who dismiss Moveon as a fringe group with little effect on politics, think again. During the early days of the 2006 campaign, Moveon ran a series of ads targeting Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), Thelma Drake (R-Va.), Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). The theme of the commercials was that these politicians had been caught "red handed" in accepting campaign contributions from industries that they had voted to protect in Congress.

Talk to any Republican strategist and he or she will admit that those ads had considerable impact on those races. The spots were memorable (the image of the red hand stuck with viewers) and served to coalesce the Democratic base early on and suggest to many independent voters that it was time to reexamine what they thought they knew about their member of Congress.

On Election Day 2006, Johnson and Chocola fell to defeat while Pryce narrowly won reelection (there was even talk before Nov. 7 that Drake was in trouble, but she won without much difficulty). While Moveon doesn't deserve full credit for these defeats, the organization did as much as any other to set the stage for the Democratic victories.

What effect can Moveon have on McCain in early primary states? Not much, in all likelihood. Being attacked by Moveon might actually help McCain among the more conservative voters who revile the organization as a potent symbol of the angry left.

Danny Diaz, a spokesman for McCain's presidential exploratory committee, latched on to this line of argument, calling Moveon "an out-of-the-mainstream organization that has a long history of airing inflammatory material, even comparing the president to Hitler." He said "it is not surprising that a liberal group opposed to military action after September 11th would attack Senator McCain's conservative values."

Watch the MoveOn.org Video:

Courtesy MoveOn.org.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 18, 2007; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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