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GOP Tries to Capitalize on Expanding House Field

Included in the NRCC’s latest round of ad buys were spots targeting Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio) and Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), neither of whom was thought to be particularly vulnerable at the beginning of the cycle.

In the coming weeks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Republicans launch ads targeting Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler (N.C.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.) and Ciro Rodriguez (Texas), who have all been on the periphery of the competitive election battlegrounds.

Republican insiders are talking about going even farther into Democratic territory that has not been considered genuinely in play. Possible targets include Democratic Reps. Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa) and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

“The Republicans are throwing names out there. That doesn’t mean we have a race. It means Democrats aren’t going to take any chances,” Democratic media consultant Steve Murphy said. “There’s no panic.”

Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Hinchey and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) could be in trouble. That followed buzz late last week that Dingell, the dean of the House, could be in a “sleeper” race and in jeopardy.

In a wave election year, it would not be surprising if late-breaking races produced the defeat of longtime Democrats, like Dingell and Hinchey, who haven’t faced a tough re-election in years.

Among the other longtime Members facing increased speculation about their political footing is Oberstar, who has earned less than 60 percent of the vote just once since coming to Congress.

Fifteen-term Rep. Barney Frank’s fundraising letter to supporters last week noted that the Massachusetts Democrat’s opponent, “a virtual unknown in Massachusetts, has suddenly been heavily promoted by a national coalition of right-wing forces. ... We should not underestimate the power of a movement that is fueled by and is the servant of big money.”

But Murphy said Republicans aren’t being realistic if they think those races are competitive.

“I would encourage them to spend money on Congressman Oberstar and Barney Frank because they’re wasting their money,” Murphy said.

Democrats say Republicans’ spending in September included a lot of waste, as the GOP dropped small expenditures to try to soften up incumbents, not all of whom will end up being vulnerable.

Democrats point to races such as the one in California’s 11th district, represented by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D), where Republicans haven’t backed their media buys with enough money to make them effective.

“Going in once and having a schizophrenic approach is not an effective strategy,” DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said. “Republicans haven’t closed the deal in these districts; that’s why Democrats will win.”

The DCCC’s recent spending included more than $250,000 to boost freshman Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona’s 1st district, a seat that some prognosticators have already written off. At the same time, the DCCC moved to reduce its late-October media buys in about two dozen districts last week. More reductions are expected this week as the committees look to solidify their media plans for the final days of the campaign.

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