She’s an outspoken advocate of her party’s policies but often her own worst enemy. So it’s hardly a surprise Nancy Pelosi has become the House Republicans’ top target as they prepare for the 2010 mid-term elections.
Indeed, Republicans and their conservative allies have targeted the first woman speaker much as Democrats and liberals attacked Newt Gingrich a decade ago, when he became the first GOP speaker in 40 years.
Like the conservative Georgian, Pelosi, the California liberal, is a canny politician with a penchant for stirring controversy and who represents a party with an ambitious agenda. Republican strategists hope to link her to Democrats they consider vulnerable.
“Rodriguez-Pelosi Agenda Continues to Fall Flat With High Unemployment,” headlined a recent National Republican Congressional Committee media release in Rep. Ciro Rodriguez’s San Antonio-area district.
Another asks if Rodriguez “will continue to ignore the dangers of bringing Gitmo prisoners to the United States, or will Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco values finally take a back seat to the concerns of Texas families?”
The congressman’s press secretary, Rebeca Chapa, dismissed such attacks as “baseless rhetoric,” contending Rodriguez put his constituents first by opposing the auto and bank bailouts and President Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade energy measure.
Besides, while Pelosi’s approval ratings have fallen, such tactics didn’t work for Democrats when they linked Republicans to Gingrich and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Any 2010 Republican successes more likely will stem from the national mood and Obama’s standing, lawmakers’ actual votes and political dynamics in several dozen districts. This is most likely in the 49 House districts that favored Republican presidential nominee John McCain and a Democrat for Congress or 20 others where Democrats won with less than 55 percent.
Rep. Chet Edwards’ Waco-centered district, a habitual but so far unsuccessful GOP target, is the only one in Texas fitting that profile. But Republicans believe Rodriguez is vulnerable, despite his 55.8 percent of the vote in a district Obama carried with 51 percent.
Pelosi’s favorable-unfavorable rating and that of congressional Democrats have dropped from roughly even, or even slightly positive, to clearly negative. (Republican leaders, though less well known, have even worse negative ratings, as does their party.)
One factor is Pelosi’s propensity for stirring controversies that fire up political adversaries and sometimes upset her allies.
She caused a major brouhaha on Capitol Hill by accusing the CIA of misleading Congress during the Bush administration about its methods of dealing with captured terrorists.
Earlier this month, she incited a conservative firestorm by telling an interviewer protesters were “carrying swastikas and symbols” to town meetings on health care. Aides cited signs at several meetings, including one conducted by Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett.
That sparked often shrill and sexist fire from conservative Web sites, which talk show host Rush Limbaugh escalated by declaring, “There are far more similarities between Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to protest a Hitler-like policy.” Limbaugh also likened an Obama campaign logo to one used by the Nazis.
Last week, Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer condemned efforts to disrupt town hall meetings in a newspaper op-ed and added, “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”
That prompted predictable criticism from House GOP leader John Boehner and an unexpected rebuke from the Obama White House.
Despite “some orchestration of the folks who go out there,” deputy press secretary Bill Burton said, the more important fact is that “these are people who do have legitimate concerns and questions about health care reform.”
Pelosi has since kept a lower profile. And with a Democratic president, she may prove an even more elusive target than Gingrich, who was the country’s top Republican.