Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Close Battle For Congress Turns Bloody

WASHINGTON -- The battle for control of Congress is wrapping up in a dizzying blur of television commercials, visits from national figures and charges and countercharges as candidates across the country make the final push toward Election Day.


Less than a week before voters go to the polls, control of the House and Senate are very much in doubt. Analysts say as many as three dozen House races are pure toss ups. In the Senate, nearly half of the 34 races are still up in the air.


With the contest so close and with so much at stake, many of the closest races have turned negative as campaigns -- bolstered by national parties and interest groups ranging from the Teamsters to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- fill the airwaves with commercials that try to portray the other candidate in an unflattering light.


While activity is reaching a peak around the country, party headquarters in Washington are about to quiet, the work there essentially done.


Many party officials and congressional aides have fanned out around the country, dropping into troubled campaigns like paratroopers. Those remaining in Washington take panicked calls from the field, offer reassurances, urge campaigns to keep doing what brought them this far -- and then sit back and anxiously await the voters' verdicts while nervously second-guessing hundreds of decisions, big and small, made over the last 18 months.


"You're just adjusting the controls right now to make sure you're going to have a smooth landing,'' said Craig Veith, National Republican Congressional Committee communications director. "You already have a sense of which way you're going.''


The final campaign strategy decisions have been made, television commercial time purchased and final mail appeals are in the hands of the postal service. "We're just tinkering at the edges,'' said Rob Engel, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director.


Results from final polls came in Wednesday night. If the final message needs to be fine-tuned, new ads must be written and produced Thursday so they can be at television stations Friday for broadcast over the weekend and Monday. "This is a real message week,'' Engel said.


And the messages are being delivered relentlessly over the airwaves in the tightest races, such as the one between freshman California Republican Representative Andrea Seastrand and Democrat Walter Capps, the college professor Seastrand narrowly defeated in 1994. At one point this week, all three televisions in Capps' Santa Barbara campaign headquarters -- each tuned to a different station -- were showing anti-Capps ads, a visitor recalled. One was sponsored by the Seastrand campaign and the other two were paid for by interest groups attacking Capps' liberal views on immigration.


It is a fitting end for a campaign year marked by massive, negative television advertising drives against House Republicans by labor and environmental groups, some of them beginning only months after Congress convened early last year. In Seattle, where the television stations reach into three closely contests districts, some commercial breaks on daytime talk shows are filled with nothing but ads for and against the House candidates.


"It's been an expensive and bloody year,'' said a top House Republican campaign official.