Washington House Democrats launched a surprise television attack against Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas on Friday night, hoping to increase the number of competitive races in the battle for control of Congress.
Ryun "voted against a $1,500 combat bonus for our troops, but voted to give himself a huge pay raise - twice," the ad says of the five-term lawmaker.
It praises his rival, Nancy Boyda, as "honest and independent - the right change for Kansas."
The district, centered on Topeka, has been in Republican hands since 1995. The race had not generally been described by strategists in either party as a competitive one, and the commercial does not mention that Boyda is a Democrat.
The ad is similar to one the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran as part of its effort to help defeat Republican Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana.
Ryun, who gained fame a generation ago as the first high school athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes, won his seat in Congress in 1996. His closest re-election campaign was two years ago, when he beat Boyda, a former Republican, with 56 percent of the vote.
Boyda has said the race is much closer than Ryun or national officials in either party have thought, and she has also said she wasn't asking for House Democrats' help and would accept it only on her terms. Ryun campaign manager Jeffrey Black noted those statements Friday.
"We have learned what we have always suspected," he said. "Nancy Boyda has been desperately pleading with the Democrats in Washington to help her with her campaign."
But Boyda expressed surprise at the news of the House Democrats' advertising, saying she's not had any conversations with them during her campaign. Her most prevalent ads have been 16-page newspaper inserts and yard signs bearing the slogan, "Had enough?"
"We have been running this campaign totally separately from Washington," she said in an interview Friday night. "The race we have been running would not have been acceptable to Washington."
The two parties have spent tens of millions of dollars during the past two months on television commercials designed to supplement the efforts of candidates.
The ads are produced independently from the candidates and air almost exclusively in races that party strategists believe are competitive. It is customary as Election Day approaches for one party or the other to begin a late advertising effort in a new location, hoping to catch the opposition off-guard.