WASHINGTON (AP) — Businessman Randy Altschuler had barely won a Republican primary for Congress when New York Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop unleashed a television ad christening him an "outsourcing pioneer" who sent jobs overseas while millions of Americans struggle.
"The company is really about Sri Lanka, the Philippines, wherever we could find the best talent," Altschuler is shown saying in the commercial, while ominous music plays in the background. In case viewers miss the point, an announcer adds that Altschuler "made millions outsourcing jobs."
The 39-year-old first-time political candidate stands out for having spoken candidly on camera about the benefit of foreign workers. But with Democrats struggling for political traction on the economy in midterm elections, candidates in all regions of the country are accusing Republicans of having personally sent jobs overseas or at least protecting companies that do.
These attacks come when the public seems increasingly disenchanted with the Democrats' ability to manage the economy, an issue that pervades the midterm elections.
In a recent AP-GfK survey, 46 percent of those surveyed said they trusted Republicans to do a better job of handling the economy, and 41 percent chose the Democrats. As recently as January, Democrats held a nine-point advantage on the issue, and two years ago, support on the economy helped President Barack Obama win the White House.
But a deep recession, followed by a grudging economic recovery, has left unemployment at just under 10 percent nationally and significantly higher in some areas.
In many parts of the country, "people think their jobs have gone overseas with a lot of basis in fact," says Steve Murphy, a Democratic campaign consultant.
Adds Pete Brodnitz, a Democratic pollster, "People are trying to figure out what happened to our economy and how do we improve our economy," adding that in their view "you have to get back to policies that really encourage manufacturing in America and making things in America."
In California, where unemployment stood at 12.3 percent in July, Sen. Barbara Boxer recently began running a commercial that says Republican candidate Carly Fiorina laid off 30,000 workers while she was CEO of computer giant Hewlett-Packard.
"When you're talking about massive layoffs, which we did, perhaps the work needs to be done somewhere else," Fiorina says in the ad. The announcer adds, "Fiorina shipped jobs to China, and while Californians lost their jobs, Fiorina tripled her salary, bought a million dollar yacht and five corporate jets."
In Ohio, where joblessness was most recently calculated at 10.3 percent, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is wielding a similar club against Republican challenger John Kasich. An ad that started running statewide in late August shows Nilda Ramos of Lorain, Ohio, saying her husband was laid off in 2006 from a job he had held for 22 years at Invacare, a manufacturer of wheelchairs and other medical equipment.
"John Kasich sat on Invacare's board as a director and signed off on jobs being outsourced and sent to China and Mexico," she says. "I believe they sent those jobs overseas so they could make more profit."
Republicans generally respond by pointing out that the economy has deteriorated during Obama's administration, and by accusing their attackers of supporting job-killing policies in Congress.
"Congressman Tim Bishop needs to stop lying," said Rob Ryan, a senior communications adviser to Altschuler. "He knows it's a fact that Randy Altschuler has created well over 700 jobs for hardworking Americans. Tim Bishop is the real outsourcer in this race. He's voted for the big spending, high taxing, job killing policies" of Obama and the Democratic leaders of Congress.
Andrea Saul, a spokesman for Fiorina, said that in Boxer's time in Congress, she has "voted for more than $1 trillion in higher taxes on hardworking Americans, championed job-killing legislation that cripples small businesses and voted to increase our debt to historic levels."
Kasich's spokesman, Rob Nichols, said that with his ad, "Ted Strickland's hypocrisy is reaching new heights. After using taxpayers' money to outsource Ohioans' jobs to El Salvador and twice voting to give China special trade status, he turns around and makes his fourth negative attack ad about these very same things." The governor is a former member of Congress.
Several Democrats said they first noticed the potential political significance of job outsourcing for this year's campaign to fill a vacancy for a House seat in southwestern Pennsylvania.
"We used it very hard and it was very effective," said Democratic Rep. Mark Critz. His victory in April was widely viewed as a mild upset, and Republicans privately say his opponent responded slowly and ineffectively to the attack.
In the wake of Critz' election, Democratic campaign committees commissioned surveys to measure the impact of the issue nationally, and have urged individual candidates to incorporate it into their campaigns, according to several officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. They declined to be identified because they said they were not authorized to discuss campaign strategy.
They said the surveys found that an allegation of outsourcing was most effective when leveled against a candidate who had a personal connection to the migration of jobs overseas, as a businessman, for example.
In other cases, including races in Wisconsin, Illinois, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere, Democrats have seized on a no-tax-increase pledge signed by Republican incumbents or candidates as evidence they want to protect breaks for companies that export jobs.
In still others, the allegation is that a Republican will support a new trade deal that promises to result in the loss of jobs overseas.
In a few cases, Democrats are trying a far softer approach. In the Syracuse, N.Y. area, Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., has aired a commercial that attacks no one.
Instead, the announcer says, "he wrote the bill that ends tax breaks for outsourcing and gives tax breaks to companies that stay in the U.S."
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