By Jonathan E. Kaplan
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) bought nearly $200,000 in television airtime on Tuesday to defend Rep. Melissa Hartís (R-Pa.) seat while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has reserved airtime in the race that had previously been considered a safe seat for Republicans.
The sizable television buys indicate that the field of competitive House races is expanding; Democrats are finding opportunities in places where they had not expected to be competitive. In Hartís district, there are 55,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, "We seek to solve potential problems before they become problems," said Carl Forti, the NRCCís spokesman.
Jason Altmire, a college football player and former congressional aide, is challenging Hart, who has represented the fourth district in the Pittsburgh suburbs since 2000. Altmire has $273,000 in cash on hand and he is running his second advertisement on television. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), speaking to an audience at the National Press Club on Wednesday, said the fact that races like Hartís are being discussed is evidence of a "surge."
From Altmireís perspective, the momentum has shifted in his favor since winning a divisive primary in May against a wealthy businesswoman. He since raised $600,000 and in early September, the DCCC did its own poll. Several days later, DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) sent Altmire a $5,000 check from his political action committee.
Altmire said his own poll conducted last month showed Hart leading by four points, 48 to 44 percent. Just 34 percent of voters approved of President Bush and only 29 percent approved of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
"We just need to connect Hart to Santorum and get Democrats to vote Democratic," said Altmire. "Then we win."
Luke Myslinski, Hartís campaign manager, said the campaign conducted its own survey last month that showed Hart holding a double digit lead and that 60 percent of voters viewed her favorably.
"Is the environment worse? Yes. But weíre not worried," he said, adding that Hart has $1.14 million in cash-on-hand. Hart began running television ads at the beginning of October.
The candidates have not faced each other in a debate, but they are expected to attend an editorial board meeting next week at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) is expected to campaign with Altmire this week and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is expected to visit next week, according to Altmire.http://www.hillnews.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/101806/nrcc.html