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CT-05: Rep. Johnson's New Ad Stresses Security Issue

A new ad for Rep. Nancy Johnson's (R-Conn.) campaign paints the upcoming election as a stark choice between the two parties on security issues, a sign that Republican candidates in tough races will take a page from their party's 2002 and 2004 playbooks to stress the GOP's record on fighting terrorism.

The Johnson ad begins with a graphic image tracing a telephone call from New York to Pakistan; the narrator intones: "A call is placed from New York to a known terrorist in Pakistan. A terrorist plot may be unfolding. Should the government intercept that call or wait until the paperwork is filed?"

As images of children and parents flash on the screen, the narrator says that Congresswoman Johnson supports "immediate action," while "liberal Chris Murphy says no."

"Chris Murphy: Wrong on security, wrong for America," the narrator says.

The race between Johnson, who has held northwestern Connecticut's 5th District since 1982, and Murphy, a state senator, is one of the most competitive in the country. (In the most recent House Line, it was ranked as the sixteenth most likely House seat to change hands this fall.)

National Democrats believe that Johnson's long tenure in Congress and the decidedly anti-Republican climate in Connecticut put her in considerable peril. Republicans acknowledge that Johnson is in a real race but believe her campaign savvy, not to mention her huge financial edge over Murphy, will insulate her from national trends.

Brian Schubert, a spokesman for Johnson, said national security is "one of the most, if not the most, important issue on the minds of voters and they deserve to know about Murphy's reckless position."

Sarah Merriam, campaign manager for Murphy, insisted that the ad came straight out of the "standard playbook" of the Republican Party. She said the ad distorts Murphy's position -- he has said the president needs to comply with existing laws governing surveillance programs. "People are sick of this," said Merriam. "They have had just about enough of scare tactics."

Johnson's decision to hit Murphy on security comes just days after the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a moment that resonates strongly in Johnson's district, which is populated with more than a few workers who commute into Manhattan every day.

The ad also follows a series of speeches delivered by President George W. Bush aimed at explaining the costs and consequences of the war on terror. Early polling suggests the White House's offensive on the issue has succeeded. An ABC survey released today -- and in the field from Sept. 5-7 -- showed terrorism was a main concern of voters. Sixteen percent of the sample cited terrorism as the most important issue in deciding their vote -- up from 11 percent in August and nine percent in late June. Republicans also enjoyed a seven-point margin on the question of which party voters trusted to handle terrorism concerns.

Johnson's ad is also one of the first tangible examples of an endangered Republican carrying out the advice of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove to cast the midterm elections as a choice between a party with a "post-9/11 worldview" and one with a "pre-9/11 worldview."

Expect more ads like this one from Johnson and other endangered Republicans as we get closer and closer to Nov. 7. While terrorism and national security may not be as clear an electoral winner as it was in 2002 and 2004 for Republicans, it helps gin up their base and is the best issue the party has in one of the toughest political environments for their party in recent memory.

Democrats say they're prepared to fight back on security this year. An example comes from Ohio, where Republican Sen. Mike DeWine launched an ad attacking Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) as soft on national security that featured an image of the World Trade Centers burning. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee immediately hit back with an ad that attacked DeWine's national security credentials, and it was later revealed that smoke had been added around the towers in the Republican's ad by his media consultant.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 13, 2006; 5:32 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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