The advertisements from vulnerable Democrats offer a window into the party’s strategy to try to keep control of the House in November at a moment when Republicans and their allies are substantially outspending Democrats and their backers.
Two years after arriving in Washington on a message of hope and change, Democratic candidates are not extolling their party’s accomplishments, but rather distancing themselves from their party’s agenda.
The midterm elections may revolve around a series of big issues, particularly with control of Congress at stake. But a look at the advertising themes and images being employed by Democrats shows all the ways they are trying to personalize their contests and avoid being defined as ideological partners of President Obama’s or as part of the Washington establishment.
In the last six weeks, Republicans have outspent Democrats $20 million to $13 million in television advertising, according to an analysis by The New York Times of 56 of the nation’s most competitive House and Senate races. The Republican advantage includes $9 million in spending from outside groups, compared with $3 million from left-leaning interests.
The disparity in spending, particularly from third-party groups, is the central reason Mr. Obama has agreed to step up his fund-raising efforts for the party in the coming weeks, aides said, and why Speaker Nancy Pelosi is asking leading donors to dig deeper.
The images of Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi appear with more frequency than those of any other political figures — but nearly always in Republican advertisements. They have been mentioned so many times that in their advertising some Democrats have started calling out their Republican rivals, including Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is running for the Senate.
“Congressman Roy Blunt seems to think he’s running for the Senate against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi,” says Robin Carnahan, the Democratic candidate, standing in the middle of a cow lot on her farm. “Hey Roy, you’re running against me!”
For all the evolutions in technology, with voters able to gather information instantly about candidates from an ever-widening array of sources, television advertising remains the most central ingredient of political races. Many candidates say they are buying more spots than in previous election cycles, hoping to break through to viewers who often tune out the first few times they come across a commercial.
The voices of politicians, along with soothing-sounding narrators talking about the economic stimulus, federal spending and bank bailouts, resonate from television sets throughout the morning, afternoon and evening.
In the last six weeks alone, Republicans broadcast 45,100 commercials and Democrats broadcast 38,400 in the competitive races included in the Times analysis of advertising data collected by the independent Campaign Media Analysis Group.
“The political response to a fragmented media world is to talk louder and longer,” said Evan L. Tracey, president of the group, which monitors political advertising. “This will be the most negative election we’ve probably ever seen, because everyone is trying to tap into voters on an emotional level and no one is looking to entertain right now.”