Democrats, Republicans Alike Point to Pelosi
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
I'm Melissa Block.
And we begin today with the struggle for control of the House of Representatives, which is very much in play in the upcoming election. NPR is tracking opinion polling around the country. At the moment those numbers suggest Democrats are leading in 209 of the House races, the Republicans leading in 205. That leaves 21 contests as tossups.
SIEGEL: We'll hear more in a bit about what pollsters are saying and we'll hear from White House strategist Karl Rove about the Republicans' prospects as he sees them. First, a report on how one Democratic member of Congress has become an election issue.
BLOCK: Depending on your political point of view, the phrase Speaker Pelosi is a) an exciting prospect, b) something that prompts fear and loathing or c) Speaker Who?
If Democrats win control of the House, Nancy Pelosi could become the first woman House Speaker. She's currently the House Democratic Leader and some Republicans have been attempting to vilify her. Others wonder if it's worth it.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: If you listen to the ads being run by some Republican Congressional candidates this season, you might be forgiven for wondering just who is this Nancy Pelosi and why hasn't she been locked up?
(Soundbite of political ad)
Unidentified Announcer #1: The Pelosi game plan. Elect Pete Schuler and others like him, and take over Congress with the votes of illegal immigrants.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Pelosi is bankrolling (unintelligible) and his vote would be to put her in charge. Connect the dots for yourself.
Unidentified Announcer #3: Melissa Bean. Just a Nancy Pelosi wannabe.
NAYLOR: President Bush has gotten into the act, too and though he doesn't mention her by name, it's clear who's he talking about.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Here's what she said. We love tax cuts. Given her record, she must be a secret admirer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAYLOR: The vilification of Nancy Pelosi is a tactic that some Republicans believe is a key to their holding onto the majority in Congress. These Republicans, among them Congressman Roger Wicker of Mississippi, argue voters need to be painted a vivid portrait of what would happen if Pelosi becomes the Speaker of the House, third in line for the presidency.
Representative ROGER WICKER (Republican, Mississippi): The choice is between a House led by a mainstream conservative like Dennis Hastert and a House led by, frankly, a very left wing San Francisco liberal like Nancy Pelosi. And we ought to site chapter and verse, showing the vote she'd cast on national defense, all of the times she had opposed these tax cuts for middle Americans and all the huge spending increases that we would have had, had her votes prevailed over time.
NAYLOR: But Republicans are divided over the wisdom of this tactic. Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York, who chairs the Republicans Congressional Campaign Committee, argues attacking someone relatively little known to most Americans isn't all that useful.
Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): For the most part, most people don't know who Nancy Pelosi is, and so unless you've got some way to describe what takes over as a philosophy or they know the name, it's (unintelligible). So we'll say Speaker Pelosi and there's a small percentage of the public will know. Others would say San Francisco liberal.
NAYLOR: Polls show Pelosi is recognized by just a small percentage of voters nationwide. A survey done this month for Newsweek showed as many people don't know who she is as viewed her favorably or unfavorably. Political scientist John Pitney of Claremont McKenna College in California agrees that painting Pelosi as a boogeyman or woman isn't all that effective a strategy.
Professor JOHN PITNEY (Claremont McKenna College): Linking Democratic candidates to Nancy Pelosi is not likely to move a large number of votes. Most voters at best have only a hazy idea of who Nancy Pelosi is and a lot of those voters actually have a favorable opinion of her.
NAYLOR: The object of all this attention, Pelosi, is a 66-year-old mother and grandmother who as San Francisco's representative in Congress for the last 19 years has accumulated an unabashedly liberal voting record. She says she has a thick skin and argues the attacks are a sign of desperation on the part of Republicans.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): I think it's going to be a hard sell for them to try to say it's not about George Bush and his failed policies in Iraq and in the economy and what that means to middle income families. It's about Nancy Pelosi, somebody they've most overwhelmingly have never heard of.
NAYLOR: One thing's likely. If Democrats win the 15 seats they need to gain the majority in the House Election Day, a lot more Americans will get to know the name Nancy Pelosi.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.