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Now, Democrats target McCain

The party's 30-second spot highlights US economic woes.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 25, 2008

On the attack: Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean recently said Republicans don’t have an effective plan to help the US economy.

j. scott applewhite/ap/file

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The announcement got buried in the avalanche of news coverage ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. But on the same day that Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton finished another lap in their slog for the nomination, the national Democratic Party launched its first television ad against the man one of them will face in November.

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The 30-second spot, which will air for three weeks on CNN and MSNBC and targets John McCain's economic views, reflects a growing sense among Democratic leaders that the prolonged nomination fight is giving Senator McCain a free pass for too long.

The ad coincides with a set of other Democratic Party efforts this week to counter the Arizona senator, including a national grass-roots door-knocking effort and a series of "counter-activities" near McCain campaign stops and fundraisers.

When McCain visits Oklahoma Friday, for instance, the state's Democratic Party will host a "No Third Bush Term" rally and a union hall event with $2.30 hot dogs – a poke at McCain's $2,300-a-plate fundraiser that night at a nearby Hilton.

"We're at the point where we're not waiting for the general election," says Karen Finney, communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

"Chairman [Howard] Dean recognizes that while it is important that the primary continue between Senators Clinton and Obama, the DNC has really got to step up its efforts to define John McCain," she says. "We want to make sure that he doesn't have the opportunity to get so far out ahead that we can't catch up."

That remains unlikely for now. With President Bush's low approval ratings and voters' displeasure with the economy and war in Iraq, Democrats are in a strong position for November.

But the increasingly negative battle for the Democratic nomination has driven up the unfavorable ratings of both Obama and Clinton, while freeing McCain to unite his party and introduce himself to a wider group of voters with a minimum of distractions.

Earlier this month, he took a biographical tour of key places in his life, from his high school in Alexandria, Va., to the Jacksonville, Fla., airfield he returned to after his release from a Vietnamese POW camp. This past week, he has courted African-Americans, blue-collar workers, and other voters often left off the GOP map with a tour of "forgotten places" like Selma, Ala.; Youngstown, Ohio; and New Orleans' Ninth Ward.