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House Republicans, facing what could be one of the most difficult elections in years, are discussing an ad campaign this year to try and give them a better image.

A working group of the House Republican Conference is examining the possibility that off-year ads combined with congressional action on a GOP agenda would give the party a better chance next year than waiting until election time to advertise.


"Our first job is to develop a message, and we are not focusing on how we deliver the message right now," said Jon Brandt, press secretary to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.), who heads the working group.

Mr. Brandt acknowledged advertising is one possibility being discussed.

The proposal for an ad campaign comes from Jim DeMint, a former ad executive who entered Congress in January as a Republican from South Carolina.

Mr. DeMint once wrote ads for St. Pauli Girl beer and STP automotive products while working at Henderson Advertising in Greenville, S.C.; he also worked as an account exec on Dow Brands products. He came into a Congress filled with lawyers and was enlisted to serve on the task force. He's the only freshman on the group.

Rep. DeMint said the party's problems stem both from the unsuccessful impeachment trial of President Clinton and the lack of any other clearly elucidated message.

The Republicans' loss of House seats in November has been blamed in part on former Georgia Rep. and House Speaker Newt Gingrich's failure to follow his earlier "Contract With America." Mr. Gingrich resigned his seat when his failure to provide a message imperiled his bid for another term as speaker.

Rep. DeMint's proposal is that the Republican caucus hire a national ad agency to develop specifics, but generally pitch Republicans as the party that's "securing America's future and returning dollars, decisions and freedom to the people."Party positions on Social Security, school choice, simplifying the tax code and rebuilding the military would then be portrayed as part of a coordinated GOP plan.

"We are starting with a negative brand image," Rep. DeMint said. "We need a strong brand ID. My plan would be to do advertising well before other messages appear and before we would be in with a lot of other clutter."

Rep. DeMint said establishing an image or theme quickly is important to give House Republicans' actions this year the appearance of a coordinated agenda.


"We need it out soon, otherwise everything we do as a party risks creating divisions," he said. "The right message can align all the mess."

He also is advising the development of a campaign that would offer different elements for diverse interests. He specifically warned about Republicans writing their own ads. "Republicans are like a bunch of account executives trying to

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