LOS ANGELES – The Republicans are beginning to sound more and more desperate.
With the midterm elections barely three months away, the war in Iraq going badly, the Republicans losing on the generic question of whether you’d rather vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress, and President Bush’s popularity still in the toilet, it’s easy to understand why.
So what do you do when you’re desperate?
In North Carolina, where Republican Rep. Charles Taylor, an eight-term incumbent, is fighting for his political life, there is only one issue the incumbent wants to talk about. Not his opponent, former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler. Not Shuler’s positions on issues, which tend to be squarely in line with the district: he is pro-gun and anti-abortion, which is pretty much what he’d have to be to get elected in the mountains of western North Carolina.
What Charles Taylor wants to talk about is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Rookie Heath Shuler is following the playbook of San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi," says the announcer in the Taylor ad, as the band plays in the background. “The Pelosi game plan: Elect Heath Shuler and others like him, and take over Congress with the votes of illegal immigrants.”
If that isn’t desperation, what is?
Wouldn’t you like a nickel for every voter in the district who doesn’t even know who Nancy Pelosi is?
Why in the world would a voter in North Carolina be voting for his representative in Congress based on who that representative will vote for for Speaker of the House should he be elected?
It’s hard enough to make the speaker an issue when you have a controversial incumbent speaker who is already in office, already a national figure, like Newt Gingrich. Even then, Democrats repeatedly tried to run against Gingrich, mostly without success.
But against someone who hasn’t even become Speaker, on the chance that she will?
The Shuler campaign has taken issue with the Taylor ad, pointing out that Shuler opposes illegal immigration and supports stronger border enforcement. He didn’t add, and didn’t need to, that neither he nor Nancy Pelosi supports voting by illegal immigrants. Pretty ridiculous.
In answer to the question of whether he would vote for Pelosi for speaker, Shuler says: “Just as I was interviewed to run for this office, I will also do my interview process and pick the person that not only fits the best for our district, but also fits our party best.”
An excellent answer. He isn’t saying, and my guess is, not a single voter will ask.
But Charles Taylor will not be the only one to use the issue. According to Jonathan Collegio, of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, “Nancy Pelosi is one of the most stridently liberal politicians in recent memory, and insofar as candidates can draw a contrast between their record and Pelosi’s record,” she becomes the issue.
If the best they can do is talk to voters about themselves, about congressional process, not voters’ lives, it represents, as Pelosi herself puts it, “a bankruptcy of ideas.”
Every time you hear Pelosi’s name from a Republican, remember that.
Talking about Pelosi may move the Republican base to contribute, in the same way rants about Ted Kennedy and Hillary do. But that’s not how elections are ultimately won. It’s certainly not what you advertise about for the general public.
Close elections are won in the middle by the swing voters who don’t follow congressional process, who tend not to pay attention to who is going to be Speaker of the House, who tend to care more about what is going on in their own house than their representative’s.
If the Republicans’ best issue for those voters is Mrs. Pelosi, the Democrats are on their way to winning the House.
Speaking of Winning...
The Tennessee Senate race is shaping up to be a humdinger. The good news for Democrat Harold Ford is that Republicans remain divided after a bruising primary battle that ended Aug. 3 with the victory of former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker over Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary in the race to succeed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has gone off to run for president.
Corker admits that not all of his opponents' supporters have joined his campaign, after having “poured their hearts and souls into the race.” Ben Cunningham, a key figure in Tennessee Tax Revolt, a group of anti-tax activists, remains uncommitted.
"I think everybody is kind of interested in his (Corker's) bona fides, so far as the principles that are near and dear to them, and I guess we all have to assess whether he holds those principles dear himself," Cunningham says.
From the Democratic point of view, they can take all the time they want.
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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.