US Chamber makes early entrance into 2016 Senate contests

AP News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2015 4:31 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is jumping in early to help Republicans hang onto control of the Senate in 2016, and going immediately on the attack.

The Chamber is paying for new television ads starting Monday in Ohio and Pennsylvania, home to two of the Senate's most endangered GOP incumbents.

The ad in Pennsylvania promotes Sen. Pat Toomey as a practical conservative who's "not afraid to reach across the aisle to find solutions."

The spot in Ohio, by contrast, focuses exclusively on Sen. Rob Portman's likely Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, blasting job losses and budget deficits on his watch and accusing him of "crippling Ohio's economy" before going on to lead a "liberal think tank." ''Say no to Ted Strickland," it urges.

The election is still well over a year away, and the Chamber has not started advertising this early in previous cycles. But the group's political director, Rob Engstrom, said the time was right to start defining the terms of the debate, especially in states that will be critical to the presidential race.

"I think it's really important for us and for others to pick those key moments in those states that are going to be so important at the presidential level," Engstrom said.

The ads will run for 10 days on broadcast, cable and online.

Republicans are playing defense in Senate races nationally as Democrats try to pick up the five seats they would need to retake the Senate majority they lost last November (four if they hang onto the White House, since the vice president casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate).

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called the Chamber's early move a "clear sign of panic."

"Washington special interests are spending big bucks early for Sens. Portman and Toomey, because they're terrified of losing two of their favorite lapdogs who are vulnerable due to long records of catering to outside interests instead of working families in Ohio and Pennsylvania," said spokesman Justin Barasky.