Cole: Pelosi Helps GOP

He Says Her High Profile Hurts Swing-District Democrats

Posted April 28, 2008 at 6:25pm

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said Monday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will be a drag on her party’s Congressional candidates in November, hindering her party’s ability to hold and pick up culturally conservative seats in the South and Midwest.

At a briefing with reporters, Cole asserted that Pelosi has rapidly achieved national-figure status, and he likened her to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who rose to power after the 1994 Republican revolution and eventually became a lightning rod for Democratic attacks.

“It’s not that she’s ineffective, but she is polarizing,” he argued.

Cole said evidence of the downballot effect national Democratic leaders are having is already emerging in two competitive special elections to fill GOP-held seats in the deep South: Louisiana and Mississippi.

“In those kinds of seats, she’s just not going to sell well,” Cole said.

The two special elections, which will be decided by runoffs in May, represent House Republicans’ first attempt this cycle to link Democratic House candidates with their party’s more liberal national leadership — specifically Pelosi and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the Democratic presidential frontrunner.

Recent polling in Mississippi’s 1st district showed that Pelosi’s name identification was around 57 percent. She had an 18 percent favorable rating and a 39 percent unfavorable rating, Cole said.

In Louisiana’s 6th district, where voters will decide the runoff Saturday, internal polls showed Pelosi had a 71 percent name ID and a 24 percent/47 percent favorable/unfavorable rating.

Republicans attempted to link downballot candidates to Pelosi in 2006 — running ads warning that a vote for the Democratic candidate was a vote for a San Francisco liberal to be Speaker — but the effort never gained any traction as an anti-incumbent wave swept Democrats into power.

Cole shrugged off using the 2006 cycle as a basis for comparison now, arguing that Pelosi is a much better-known figure now that she is Speaker.

He acknowledged Pelosi’s strength as a fundraiser and noted there are positive aspects to having a higher national name ID and profile.

But unlike her predecessor, Pelosi has more limited geography when it comes to being able to campaign for her party’s candidates. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was a tremendous fundraising and campaigning asset for the party, but he shunned the spotlight and never achieved high national name ID.

Cole joked that if Pelosi wanted to go to Tupelo, Miss., for a campaign rally before the May 13 runoff, the NRCC would help chip in to pay for her airfare.

“I don’t think she’s going to be an asset to the party as a campaigner,” he said.

The race to fill the House seat of now-Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is considered a tossup between Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R) and Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D).

A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman said Monday that Republican attempts to hang Pelosi around the necks of Democratic candidates is merely a smoke screen for the GOP’s troubles.

“Tom Cole is desperately trying to hide the fact that the NRCC has recruited badly flawed candidates and the GOP has no credibility with the American people on critical issues like the economy, health care and the war in Iraq,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said.

While Democrats say their candidates in Mississippi and Louisiana fit the ideological profile of the districts, Cole argued those candidates are being disingenuous because their positions are so far out of line with their national party’s leadership.

“They’re trying to run as Republicans,” he said, citing the Democratic special election candidates’ stances on taxes and gun rights.

Overall, Cole said, 2008 is shaping up to be a national election fought largely on traditional ideological grounds.

He also noted that while Republicans are using ads to tie Democratic candidates to Pelosi and Obama, Democrats are not using the presumptive Republican White House nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), in negative advertising against Republicans — at least not yet.

“John McCain is not a polarizing figure, that’s why they’re trying to run against Bush,” Cole said.

In Mississippi’s 1st district, recent polling showed McCain leading Obama 65 percent to 30 percent.