Memorial Day Weekend, and local newscasters are doing their price-of-gas
stories, their beat-the-beach-traffic
stories, their crowds-at-the-airport stories, and all the other
staples of holiday newscasts. Now, the Democratic National Committee
has come out with what promises to be another hardy perennial for
the George W. Bush years the Republicans-and-the-oil-companies-spoiled-your-vacation
This weekend, Democrats are releasing a new radio ad in several
states. It begins with the sound of a busy household as a family
prepares for a trip:
"Okay, everybody get in," says dad.
A car door slams. "Come on, kids, let's go," says mom.
Two more doors slam shut. "You have the cooler?" dad asks.
"Yeah, I have the cooler."
The couple's son speaks up. "Okay, pop, are you gonna drive?"
"Are you kidding?" dad says incredulously. "At two dollars a gallon?
We'll picnic right here. Break out the sandwiches!"
"Huh?" says the disappointed boy.
An announcer's voice cuts in on the image of the hapless family
picnicking in the parked car. "As Americans set out for summer vacations,
gas prices are soaring," the announcer says, "while the big oil
companies continue to post huge profits. Yet President Bush has
offered no relief. Bush's plan would help oil and gas put more money
in their pockets, not ours. And your representative
not supported an investigation into price gouging by the oil and
The spots will run in five congressional districts around the country
and are specifically tailored to target five Republican representatives:
Doug Ose of California, Mike Ferguson of New Jersey, Rob Simmons
of Connecticut, Chip Pickering of Mississippi, and Heather Wilson
of New Mexico.
None have taken a particularly leading role in the national energy
debate, but they share one trait: they're vulnerable. Simmons is
a freshman who won election with 51 percent of the vote in his district.
Ferguson is another freshman who squeaked in with even less
50 percent. Wilson is a third-termer who won with 51 percent. Ose
is a California moderate who won by a bigger margin but might face
trouble winning reelection in 2002 after redistricting brings more
Democrats into his district. The same holds true for Pickering.
"If you look at the people they're going after, they all pretty
much fit the same profile," says Brandon Waters, spokesman for Mike
Ferguson. "I would say it's based solely on vulnerability." Still
the targets didn't see it coming "It was news to us," says
Waters and were left scrambling to respond. For his part,
Ferguson released a boilerplate response that began, "We are closer
to the last election than we are to the next, and already some are
putting partisan rhetoric above bipartisan solutions to resolve
the challenges facing American families."
A Democratic party spokesman confirms the vulnerable-target strategy
behind the ads. "We are looking at representatives who represent
marginal districts," says Mark Nevins, press secretary for the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee, "districts where they don't have
a mandate to just do whatever the heck they want." Nevins says the
ads will run for about a week. "This is not a symbolic purchase
of advertising time," he adds. "If you live in one of these districts
and you listen to the radio, you will hear these ads."
The campaign is the second step in a new Democratic strategy to
attack Republicans on the energy issue (the first step was last
week's television campaign in California targeting Rep. Steve Horn).
And the next step will be
well, more of the same.
If continued over a long period of time, it's a strategy that might
ultimately prove quite effective, but Republicans say they do not
plan to answer the Democratic campaign. "Our position is that at
this point, the Democrats are kind of wasting their money," says
Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional
Committee, "because this is a problem brought on by eight years
of neglect by Bill Clinton, and the voters still realize that."
Such a don't-hit-back strategy has at times proved disastrous for
Republicans 1995 and 1996 come to mind but at least
for now, the party is remaining quiet in the belief that voters
won't be fooled about the energy issue. "Politically, the Democrats
are trying to shift the blame," says Forti, "and it won't work."