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GOP launches statewide radio, TV ad campaign

The Massachusetts Republican Party last night rolled out a statewide radio and television ad campaign designed to give GOP legislative candidates an 11th-hour boost, debuting the television ads in prime slots before and after the Red Sox-Cardinals game.

Both of the ads portray entrenched Democratic incumbents as obstacles to Governor Mitt Romney's "reform" agenda, and the 15-second television spot includes photographs of the governor. But Romney does not speak in either ad.

"Find out where your legislator stands on raising your taxes, on giving college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, or making it impossible to fire bad teachers," the ad says. "Vote Romney, Republican reform. It's the only way to clean up the mess on Beacon Hill."

Earlier this month, Romney told a Globe reporter that with only $500,000 left in its campaign coffers, the party didn't have enough money to air a large-scale television campaign. "There's no grand plan to run TV ads across the state," the governor said on Oct. 16 in Iowa, where he was campaigning for President George W. Bush.

Republican officials insisted yesterday that the television ads did not signal a shift in strategy, because an ad buy of less than $500,000 is not "large." The GOP declined to reveal exactly how much it is spending on the ads, which will run for the next five days.

"It has always been something we were considering, and looking at our budget it's something we decided to do heading into the final couple of days," said Tim O'Brien, the executive director of the state GOP. "Things are going well in a lot of races. We're dictating the agenda and we're doing everything we can to highlight why our opponents are on the wrong sides of the issues."

But Philip W. Johnston, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, questioned the GOP's statewide strategy, arguing that legislative races are largely won or lost on local issues. Democratic candidates are running ads, Johnston said, but there are no plans for a unified Democratic ad.

"It's an act of desperation because the polling indicates our candidates are in good shape around the state," Johnston said.

Meantime, US Representative Michael Capuano, Democrat of Somerville, said in an interview yesterday that two television ads he's produced are playing on major stations in Massachusetts at a cost of $275,000. In one of the ads, Capuano -- who's widely viewed as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2006, says, "George Bush, Republicans in Congress, and even our own governor want more tax cuts for the rich, cuts they say won't hurt working families. That's nonsense." Capuano faces no opponent on Tuesday.

Romney spent yesterday morning in New Hampshire stumping for Bush. It was his fifth such visit this year, and the second this week. He said that Bush officials set up the trip this month after he publicly lamented that he had not been asked to do more for Bush.

Accompanied by state Representative Brian P. Golden of Allston, a Democrat who supports Bush, Romney held a press conference at the New Hampshire Republican headquarters in Concord and visited two small defense-related manufacturers in Manchester and Nashua. At every stop, the governor portrayed Senator John F. Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal in the mold of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and former governor Michael S. Dukakis.

"Senator Kerry has been wearing camouflage during the entire campaign," Romney said at the first event, referring to Kerry's recent goose-hunting trip. "He doesn't want people to recognize that he's a tried-and-true liberal Democrat from Massachusetts."

Romney also sought to play up his commitment to the state party yesterday by releasing a list of dozens of events he has attended to boost GOP legislative candidates.

The list shows that Romney has attended 66 events for 42 legislative hopefuls since he introduced the Republicans' slate of legislative candidates last March. The governor and the GOP have raised more than $3 million to rebuild the party, and Romney helped recruit some 134 House and Senate candidates.

When he unveiled "Team Reform," Romney promised to mount the most vigorous GOP election drive in more than a decade to curb the Democrats' dominance of Beacon Hill. In recent weeks, however, he has sought to downplay expectations, saying he'd be happy if the GOP can simply hold onto the seats it has. There are just 22 Republicans in the House and seven in the Senate.

Some Republican candidates and their aides said they would welcome more involvement from Romney in the homestretch.

"I would have hoped that Governor Romney would spend more time with his own legislative candidates than candidates in other states," said Guillaume Buell, who is managing the campaign of Robert V. Finneran, a Republican taking on Representative Harriett L. Stanley. Romney has yet to visit the district.

"We would've appreciated a visit, but we feel the governor's already done a tremendous amount for us by being a good governor and with the mailings," Buell said.

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