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Republicans Intensify Campaign Against Pelosi

Even as they aim to blunt the impact of renewed efforts by Congressional Republicans to cast Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as a liberal villain, Democratic House leadership aides assert the attacks have been largely ineffective in the first 100 days of the 110th Congress.

Republicans have sought to capitalize on the California lawmaker’s recent trip to Syria as well as the ongoing fight with the White House over Iraq War spending, while also touting one recent poll showing a slip in Pelosi’s approval since the start of the year.

The poll of 1,000 adults conducted in early April for the Associated Press-Ipsos poll by Ipsos Public Affairs found the Speaker’s approval rating had dropped to 46 percent from 51 percent in early January. Disapproval ratings in the poll rose to 44 percent from 35 percent during the same period.

“What that suggests is the honeymoon is over,” House Republican Conference spokesman Ed Patru said Friday, and later added: “The concerns about a liberal from San Francisco being able to legislate effectively from the middle have been validated.”

But Democrats shrug off the changes as a natural progression, noting the Speaker’s exposure has increased significantly since her elevation to the House’s top post.

According to a Diageo/Hotline poll conducted by Financial Dynamics in early November, 34 percent of the 800 registered voters surveyed could not identify Pelosi. In a late March survey by the same organization — done before the Syria trip — that figure had dropped to 18 percent.

During that same period, Pelosi’s favorable rating increased from 29 percent to 36 percent, while her unfavorable rating in the survey rose from 21 percent to 29 percent.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at results, and this Democratic Congress led by the Speaker has been and continues to be very successful,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami.

Nevertheless, Democratic sources acknowledge the House leadership has sought a coordinated response to the attacks, seeking to refocus criticism to the GOP minority.

“You respond to Republican attacks by directly challenging them to offer a better vision for America,” Elshami said. “The attacks are not going to go unanswered because Democrats understand how important it is for the American people to see the differences between what we have to offer and what the ‘do-nothing party’ of the last Congress failed to offer.”

Added one Democratic operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “You have to be vigilant. You can’t let somebody throw punches.”

Still, Republicans — who note that all of the six key Democratic proposals, including an increase of the federal minimum-wage increase and other items, have yet to reach the president’s desk — believe their continued efforts will trap Pelosi in the same “character realm” that hurt both then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Certain lawmakers “create an image of themselves that is very difficult to get around,” said Senate Republican Conference spokesman Ryan Loskarn, adding of Pelosi: “She’s the same person she’s always been; it’s just that now America gets to see it.”

In recent months Republicans have sought to promote their own image of Pelosi, fueling the controversy surrounding whether she should get a military aircraft to fly nonstop to and from her district, criticizing the Democrats’ proposals for the Iraq War as led by “General Pelosi” and more recently highlighting the Speaker’s travels to the Middle East and to Syria in particular, where she met with President Bashar al-Assad.

But Democrats assert that such attacks largely fail to reverberate with the general electorate.

“The bottom line is the Republicans want it to have an impact, but it doesn’t work, in part because the attacks aren’t based in reality,” asserted the Democratic operative. “As people get to know her, they get to see her views. … She’s talking about the kinds of things that people sent their Members to Congress to do.”

Referring to a similar Republican effort to use the specter of a liberal Speaker to sway voters away from Democratic challengers in key districts in the lead-up to November’s elections, a Democratic leadership aide sarcastically noted, “That worked well the last time they tried it. … You’d imagine they’d think of something new by now.”

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