Ohio: Republicans' Machiavellian Maneuver in the 6th
House Republicans are pulling out all the stops in their attempt to keep state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) from winning the May 2 Democratic primary in Ohio's open 6th District race:
Their latest gambit is decidedly Machiavellian, taking the form of a campaign ad sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee that attacks Bob Carr, one of the two little-known Democrats whose name will actually appear on the primary ballot on May 2. (Wilson failed to secure the 50 signatures required to qualify for the primary ballot and, as a result, is running as a write-in.)
The ads begins with an quick attack on Wilson ("We know we can't trust Charlie Wilson to do what's right," a narrator intones) before images of Carr flash on the screen accompanied by the phrase "liberal Democrat." The commercial's narrator goes on to note that Carr is "too far left to work with Republicans in Washington" and that he "hasn't even ruled out trying to eliminate President Bush's tax cuts." The ad's tagline? "Bob Carr: Too liberal for Congress." (To view the ad, click here; you'll need to have RealPlayer installed to watch it.)
What's so devilish (and potentially effective) about the ad? Republicans are trying to knock off the Democrats' strongest candidate -- Wilson. They are betting that Democratic primary voters, most of whom have never heard of Carr before seeing the commercials, will be motivated to back him because of the NRCC ads. After all, being described as a liberal by a national Republican organizations is a badge of honor to many progressives, and calling for an elimination of the Bush tax cuts is a long-held position among liberal Democrats -- a group that's likely to be over represented in the primary electorate.
Since Carr is not likely to be able to take to the radio or television airwaves to broadcast his message (he had not even filed a financial report with the Federal Election Commission as of press time), the NRCC has decided to take matters in its own hands to try and boost his prospects. The ad went up Friday night in the Wheeling (W.Va.) and Youngstown (Ohio) markets, which reach more than 70 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in the 6th District. Carl Forti, NRCC communications director, said simply that his committee does not discuss its internal strategy.
Bill Burton, Forti's counterpart at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it's "no surprise that national Republicans would back the Republican in a Democratic primary in Ohio." Burton said Carr was the Republican nominee against Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) in 1996. Carr lost that race 71 percent to 27 percent while being outspent by Stupak $459,000 to $6,000.
Reached this afternoon, Carr said that the only reason he ran as a Republican previously was because he was concerned that the GOP's anointed candidate in that race would viciously attack Stupak. Carr ran in the primary (and won) to prevent that from happening. He insists he has been voting Democratic since 1976 and formally changed his voter registration in 2000.
As for the NRCC ads, Carr said: "Bring 'em on."
This is not the first time the NRCC has dabbled in a Democratic primary. In 2000, House Republicans targeted Rep. Michael Forbes, who had switched party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in July 1999. In his first race as a Democrat, Forbes faced a little-known and poorly funded 71-year-old librarian named Regina Seltzer in the primary.
The NRCC spent between $75,000 and $100,000 on a series of direct-mail pieces that outlined Forbes's conservative positions on hot-button issues like abortion and guns -- issues sure to turn true blue Democratic primary voters against him. The NRCC also used phone banks to echo those attacks and cast Seltzer as the best choice in the primary.
Forbes outspent Seltzer by more than $1 million in the primary, but the NRCC's tactics proved devastatingly effective as the unknown librarian beat the congressman by 35 votes -- 6,077 to 6,042. Republicans went on to easily win the open seat in the fall.
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