Jan 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi is the GOP’s 2022 bogeywoman

Photo illustration of Nancy Pelosi's photo surrounded by sports game strategy x's and arrows
Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photo: Eric Lee-Pool/Getty Images

Nancy Pelosi's decision to seek an 18th full term has added a new angle to Republican efforts to win back the House: tying swing-state Democrats to an even bigger Democratic bogeywoman than President Biden.

Why it matters: This may be the GOP's last opportunity to capitalize on the presence of Pelosi, a classic California liberal who conservatives love to hate. The speaker struck a deal in 2018 to step down from leadership after two terms, but that may not be soon enough for candidates struggling to explain the policies she's pushed.

  • Announcing she'll run again allows Pelosi to stave off lame-duck status and continue raking in cash for her party.
  • It also avoids her adding her prominent name to the long list of Democrats who've announced their retirement amid doubts they'll be able to keep their majority past this fall.

Driving the news: The NRCC, running a perennial play, plans to play up Pelosi in ads against vulnerable Dems.

  • It's already run several ads featuring the speaker, including those against embattled Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.).
  • Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, signaled a similar strategy.
  • "As long as Pelosi is around, she’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for Republican campaigns," he said.

NRCC polling shared with Axios has Pelosi at 36% favorable and 57% unfavorable among voters in 85 swing districts.

  • NRCC battleground polling from November had Biden at 42% favorable, 52% unfavorable.
  • “Nancy Pelosi is the most unpopular politician in the country," said committee spokesperson Michael McAdams. "Unfortunately for vulnerable Democrats, Pelosi is also their running mate now that she is seeking re-election."

What they're saying: Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Axios that Pelosi is a preferred punching bag on the campaign trail over her potential successors, such as the lesser-known Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the House Democratic Caucus chair.

  • "They wouldn't really know much about them, what they stand for," Bacon said of voters in his Omaha-based purple district.
  • His polling has Pelosi averaging around 30% favorability. "They know who ''The Squad' is, stuff like that. I don't think they would know Jeffries."
  • "Without her, the party could try to present a new image or try to redefine. But she's going to be the face of the Democrat Party."

But, but, but: Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher refuted the idea of Pelosi as a non-fungible foil.

  • "Republicans are going to find whatever bogeyman that they can," he said, "whether it be the speaker, whether it be the president, whether it be AOC."
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Chris Taylor said: “Speaker Pelosi’s leadership helped Democrats pass a popular agenda that’s gotten millions of Americans back to work and created the best year of economic growth in four decades."
  • One Democratic campaign operative noted Pelosi was a mainstay of GOP ads in 2018, when Democrats flipped over 40 seats.
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