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Campaign ads feature attacks on Pelosi

October 24, 2010|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times

In one of the hundreds of campaign ads targeting the Speaker of the House, the candidate boasts, "I voted against Nancy Pelosi's agenda 267 times."

And that's from a member of the San Francisco Democrat's own party, which is at risk of losing its House majority on Nov. 2 and the powerful speaker post that goes with it.

Pelosi shrugs it off.

"I just want them to win their election," she said of Democrats trying to keep a distance from their chosen leader.

While speakers from both parties have been vilified in the past, Pelosi, who stands for many of the liberal themes under attack in the midterm elections, appears to be taking an unusually high number of strident campaign hits.

"Look, she is very partisan, doesn't care much for Republicans, she comes from the left wing of her party and she comes from San Francisco,'' said John Feehery, a former House GOP leadership aide. "That makes for a very inviting target.''

Pelosi has been featured in more than 400 attack ads, mostly from Republicans, that have aired more than 130,000 times coast to coast, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

"He's putting Nancy Pelosi's liberal agenda ahead of our needs,'' says a typical ad, this one targeting Democratic Rep. Scott Murphy in upstate New York.

Sacramento-area Republican Congressman Dan Lungren describes his Democratic opponent, physician Ami Bera, as "Nancy Pelosi's choice for more spending and more taxes.''

"Had enough of Nancy Pelosi?'' asks a Republican ad in Oregon.

Pelosi is fighting back by raising buckets of money — more than $50 million this cycle, party officials say — and showing up where she's welcome and staying away where she isn't.

If the 70-year-old lawmaker loses the majority, she loses the speakership after just four years as the first woman and first Californian to lead the House, second in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president.

Pelosi remains confident that Democrats will hold onto the majority and that she will retain her post even though a number of endangered Democrats on the campaign trail are pledging not to vote for her as speaker.

"We're in the game," Pelosi said on "The Charlie Rose Show" this week. "We don't have any intention of losing …. We're not thinking in terms of what if….''

While Pelosi's face or name is just about everywhere — in TV ads attacking Democratic candidates for being Pelosi puppets and on a GOP "Fire Pelosi" bus travelling around the country — the speaker has been keeping a low public profile lately. Last week, she appeared before a friendly audience — the United Steelworkers Union's women's conference in Pittsburgh, where some held up signs that said "Best Speaker Ever,'' — and held fundraisers in Boston and New York.

Although she has been scorned in the target of Republican campaign attacks before, this year the GOP has made her a favorite target because of her high-profile role in promoting controversial legislation, such as the healthcare overhaul. Some of her fellow Democrats, especially in red territory, are also trying to steer clear.

In North Carolina, Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre declares in an ad: "I don't work for Nancy Pelosi.''

In Georgia, Rep. Jim Marshall, another Democrat in a tough race, is running an ad saying: "Georgia is a long way from San Francisco, and Jim Marshall is a long way from Nancy Pelosi.''

Although some qasuppestion whether featuring an unpopular speaker prominently in the campaign has any significant effect, this year's attempts to tie candidates to Pelosi appear to be working, especially in conservative Southern districts, some Congress watchers said.

Yet, Norman J. Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, said, "Is this going to be an election where significant numbers of people vote in a particular way because they want to vote against Nancy Pelosi? Nah.''

Pelosi is viewed favorably by 29% of Americans, her lowest rating since she became speaker and only slightly better than the lowest point for former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in April 1997 was seen favorably by 24% of Americans, according to a Gallup poll.

"While President Obama may be of some benefit on the campaign trail in terms of firing up the Democratic base to turn out, Pelosi's subdued favorability among Democrats and highly negative image among independents suggest she is a far riskier person for Democratic candidates to be associated with," according to Gallup.

"If she were not effective, I don't think they'd be so anxious to try to take her out,'' said Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

If Democrats lose the majority, Pelosi could follow the lead of her predecessor, former Republican Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who retired from Congress about a year after his party lost the majority in 2006. She could also seek to return to the minority leader position she once held, hoping Democrats would win back the majority in 2012.

But UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain said, "The Republicans have made such an issue of her that there will almost certainly be people in the caucus and in the party who think that having a leader … so heavily identified with Obama's first two-year agenda might not be the way to refashion themselves."

On the other hand, Cain said, "You can't imagine somebody closer to the left who can still manage the party in a practical, disciplined way the way Nancy Pelosi does,'' noting that the election, ironically, could move the Democratic caucus to the left "and closer to her.''

richard.simon@latimes.com

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