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With midterms weeks away, candidates and their backers are spending more ad dollars


Campaign ad spending tells the story of which messages the parties want you to vote on this fall. Two big issues are abortion and crime. Here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's been watching.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The ads running on TV in Ohio's first congressional district tell a story playing out in races all over the country. This race is a toss-up, and the messaging is 2022 textbook. Take this ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Steve Chabot is obsessed with banning abortion. He's voted for extreme bans over and over for decades.

KEITH: Chabot, the Republican incumbent - like Republicans up and down the ballot - has been getting hit on the issue of abortion ever since the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision put the issue front and center. Vriti Jain does strategic messaging at the DCCC. She says abortion is proving to be an extremely galvanizing issue.

VRITI JAIN: And it's really powerful. It hits people really personally. And that's part of why you're seeing it show up on the airwaves across the country.

KEITH: According to AdImpact, Democrats nationwide spent more than $60 million on TV ads about abortion in September. That represents about 30% of all Democratic TV ad spending.

DAN CONSTON: It's the only message that they have.

KEITH: Dan Conston is president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican super PAC backed by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He says the Dobbs ruling has complicated what should have been a Republican wave election. But Conston says Republicans really aren't responding directly to these abortion-related ads.

CONSTON: We are squarely focused on issues that we think the electorate cares most about, which is economic concerns, of which there are an endless number today, and concerns about public safety.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: 2020, murder in Cincinnati at an all-time high.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Homicides are up 91%.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And Greg Landsman's response - defund the police.

KEITH: That ad from Conston's group going after Democratic challenger Greg Landsman, a Cincinnati city councilman, is part of a trend in Republican messaging as the midterms get closer. According to AdImpact, Republicans spent more than $33 million on crime-related messaging in September, tripling the number of GOP ads on that issue airing from the month before. But unlike Republicans on abortion, Democratic candidates, including Landsman, are mounting a defense, with law enforcement officers as validators.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This ad from Congressman Chabot's friends is just wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Landsman increased police funding by $20 million.

GUY CECIL: When you want to know how candidates think they can win, you look at where they're spending their money.

KEITH: That's Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, a Democratic outside group that, in addition to spending millions on voter mobilization, is also tracking online ad spending by both parties. He says the amping up of crime-related ads is particularly pronounced in key Senate races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Republicans have just been hammering the Democratic candidates.

CECIL: In Wisconsin, 70% of all digital advertising right now is focused on crime in the Senate race. Less than 15% of the advertising is actually focused on the economy.

KEITH: Longtime Republican operative Sarah Longwell has been spending time with swing voters this cycle for her podcast, "The Focus Group." She always starts by asking what voters are worried about.

SARAH LONGWELL: The economy comes up first every single time. Crime comes up often.

KEITH: Abortion, not so much. But Longwell says it matters a lot when voters start talking about candidates and who they won't vote for.

LONGWELL: Abortion tends to be the top reason why. And they're all very aware of the candidate's position on abortion, especially if they're really extreme.

KEITH: All of which is to say, get used to seeing more ads online and on TV about crime and abortion.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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