From Pelosi Pinatas To Fiery Flames — GOP Targets Speaker As Public Enemy No. 1

She’s been dubbed the most powerful speaker in a century, and was singled out by President Obama as being a critical force for passing a sweeping health care reform overhaul. But for the Republicans, she equals fundraising gold — a San Francisco liberal who fires up the base and creates an endless supply of photo fodder.

GOP pollsters find that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is one of the most recognized Congressional leaders in decades. That’s one reason the term “PelosiCare” has found its way into Republican mailers and television ads, and GOP sources tell us that will keep up in the coming months.

“The voters cannot fire Barack Obama in November but they can fire Nancy Pelosi,” said Wes Anderson, a GOP pollster who contracts with the Republican National Committee. “The only other person voters are as concerned about is President Obama. They find she shares his ideology but not his charm.”Anderson told me in an interview Tuesday night that Republicans won’t let up on Pelosi attacks because of her high name recognition They also see a window for them because she is highly unpopular among independent voters.

But for all the right-wing ire targeting Pelosi, our PollTracker shows she is more popular than the Republican Minority Leaders in the House and Senate.

The current TPM Poll Average of the speaker’s popularity shows Pelosi with 47.3 percent unfavorability and a favorability rating of 24.6 percent.

The current TPM Poll Average of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s popularity shows McConnell (R-KY) with 62.9 percent unfavorability and a favorability rating of 20.9 percent.

The current TPM Poll Average of House Minority Leader John Boehner’s popularity shows Boehner (R-OH) with 62.3 percent unfavorability and a favorability rating of 19.8 percent.

Pelosi, on the other hand, has a wide fan base being the first female speaker in history. What’s more is the GOP has attempted to demonize Pelosi for the last two election cycles to little benefit.

Republicans told me for this piece they think it will be more successful this year in part because they lost others they used to hold up as “scary liberals” the GOP should be aiming to replace. They say Pelosi has filled a vacuum — Hillary Clinton had been their prime foil since the 1990s, but when she and Obama sparred during the long and bloody primary, many Republicans shifted to portraying her as a hero fighting for the middle class. Sen. Ted Kennedy held a spot as the top conservative boogeyman for decades but the GOP stopped using his image following his illness and then death last summer.

The Democrats have their own favorites who help them raise money, one reason you see Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh’s name pop up so frequently in their campaigns.

Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill told me they think the Pelosi attacks have been substantially higher and more personal than what the GOP has done in recent years. The Republicans admit that but defend their choices as one way they can try and win back the majority.

Among the greatest hits from the last year:

  • At the Conservative Political Action Conference, one of the after-parties featured a Pelosi pinata as the entertainment.
  • An internal RNC fundraising document obtained by Politico compared Pelosi to Cruella de Vil.
  • The RNC also linked her image with “Pussy Galore” in a James Bond-style video targeting her comments about the CIA.
  • At the Capitol tea party last November, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) told a screaming crowd, “Fellow patriots, go tell your Congressman, you’re not going to eat this rotten stinking fish that is — Pelosi health care!”
  • Last fall, a tea party group in central Virginia scrapped plans to burn Pelosi in effigy outside Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-VA) office after getting criticism that it was too much.

And as we’ve taken a look at in recent days, the new Republican National Committee campaign is to “Fire Pelosi,” and the Web site aimed at fundraising to that cause depicts her in front of a background of flames. The RNC had raised nearly $1.3 million for the effort as of this writing, beating the RNC’s declared goal of $400,000 in 40 hours. Chairman Michael Steele said on CBS News yesterday that he’d actually ordered the campaign “tamed down” from its original form.

To go with the fundraising drive, the RNC released this week a Web video called “Celebration,” with an ominous narrator declaring that “Democrats are celebrating because Nancy Pelosi says ‘this is only the beginning’ [and] that Democrats will take the country in a new direction.” It closes with, “It’s time to fire Nancy Pelosi. Now that’s a cause worth celebrating.”

NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) asked supporters to “Send Pelosi a Message” and said in an email fundraising drive that “Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat puppets have no intention of listening to the American people.” The short email mentions her name 7 times, and closes with, “Your support is critical to ending Pelosi’s reign as Speaker. Democrats made their choice.”

Democrats don’t want to raise this publicly, but privately say they find the attacks — and multiple unflattering images — to be misogynistic. They’ve told us on background that they believe Republicans are approaching dangerous ground by attacking the first black president, first female speaker and first Hispanic Supreme Court justice in “vicious, outrageous ways.”

Pelosi’s office pointed us to her remarks to Diane Sawyer (below) this week, dismissing the attacks as fruitless.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said the “demonization and personal attacks” on Pelosi are another example of GOP fear-mongering.

“We’ve seen it take the form of false smears about impending ‘death panels,’ outright lies about ‘government takeovers’ and screams of ‘baby killer’ from the floor of the US House of Representatives,” Sevugan said. “What should be scary for Republicans is that with the help of Speaker Pelosi’s determined leadership Democrats are getting things done for American families, while the GOP has to explain to the American people why they want to undo all that including why they want to impose the largest health care tax hike in American history on middle class families and small businesses.”

The GOP pollster Anderson said it is “shocking” that 40 percent of voters have formed hard opinions of Pelosi in the three and a half years since she assumed the nation’s No. 3 job. He said no speaker of the House has ever come to close the name recognition she enjoys, including Newt Gingrich. Anderson said that while Gingrich (R-GA) became better known years after his tenure began, most Americans didn’t know him or have similar hard opinions of him when Republicans won back control of Congress in 1994.

I asked him about Democrats charging misogyny and he said female voters are among those who don’t like Pelosi. “It’s not gender driven. If that’s the case, how can you explain that she’s so badly upside down with American voters,” he said.

Pelosi dismissed being a target outright in an interview on ABC’s World News Tonight this week. Watch:

Meanwhile, progressives are pushing an online campaign to send 3 roses for $10 to the speaker’s office this week in honor of Pelosi’s 70th birthday on Friday. They claim they are up to nearly 1,000 roses ordered.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is getting plenty of heat as well, despite not being as known. The Tea Party Express has a major protest planned for his hometown in Searchlight, Nevada this weekend.