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As ad wars heat up, Republicans eye China as their secret weapon

By Felicia Sonmez

As polls show their party poised to make big gains this fall, National Republicans believe that a new round of attack ads arguing that the $814 billion economic stimulus created jobs in China will be a potent closing argument against Democratic incumbents.

New China-themed spots funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee are running against a slew of House Democrats including Reps. Zack Space (Ohio), Chris Carney (Pa.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Glenn Nye (Va.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Steve Kagen (Wis.), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Tim Walz (Minn.) and Phil Hare (Ill.).

An ad running against Space is typical of the messaging coming out of national Republicans. The commercial charges that the stimulus "created renewable energy jobs in China" and "created mountains of new debt back here."

"Zack Space: Staggering debt here, sending jobs to China. Who's he working for?" the narrator of the ad asks.

Some of the spots tauntingly ask whether the member in question is running for Congress in his or her home district or in China.

"Is Baron Hill running for Congress in Indiana -- or China?" asks the narrator of the new NRCC ad against Hill. The ad goes on to hit Hill for supporting "the $800 billion stimulus package that created renewable energy jobs in China" and charges that Hill's "big-spending programs will force us to keep borrowing money from -- you guessed it -- China."

The new line of attack is based on reports earlier this year that some federal stimulus dollars went to foreign manufacturers for the construction of American wind-energy projects. Those reports led to criticism of the program from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic senators. The Obama administration strongly disputed the reports, saying that the majority of jobs created by the stimulus spending were in the United States.

The strategy looks to be one Republicans will continue to make this cycle; a new NRCC ad against Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) charges that the stimulus "let your tax dollars go to foreign corporations to create jobs overseas."

"From our perspective, it's not often that we agree with Chuck Schumer, but in this case, he's right," said NRCC spokesperson Paul Lindsay.

A September Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 68 percent of adults think the money the federal government has spent on the stimulus has been wasted, while only 29 percent said they thought the money had been well spent.

Polling also shows that Americans view the influence of the United States waning as China is on the rise. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in February showed 43 percent of American adults think the 21st Century will be "more of a Chinese century" when it comes to world affairs, compared with 38 percent who said it will be "more of an American Century."

Asked about the ads in a roundtable with reporters Tuesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka charged Republicans of "hypocrisy" on China.

"Every time we've tried to regulate China, they've been in the way," Trumka said. "Our members aren't going to fall for that. They know who supports American jobs and who doesn't."

Democrats on the campaign trail aren't ceding the China issue to Republicans either.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's latest ad on behalf of Space, for instance, charges that state Sen. Bob Gibbs (R) "testified before Congress to lift trade protections with China" and "signed a pledge that protected tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas."

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall's (D) latest TV ad against Sen. Richard Burr (R) charges that Burr "supported shipping jobs to China, record debt, bank bailouts and tax breaks for millionaires -- all of it paid for by putting our children in hock to foreign countries or raiding Social Security."

Another spot aired by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the Pennsylvania Senate race takes aim at former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) for having spent time working in Hong Kong; "Maybe he ought to run for Senate in China," says the ad's narrator.

The China-themed ads pose their own risks -- in districts such as Space's where both candidates are trying to tie each other to China, voters could end up more confused than mobilized.

Still, the strategy gives Republicans one more way of hitting Democrats on what the GOP believes is their rivals' biggest weak spot -- the economy. And when it comes down to it, that's still the number-one issue on voters' minds this election.

By Felicia Sonmez  | October 13, 2010; 3:14 PM ET
Categories:  Governors, House, Senate  
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