When Fame Becomes A Weapon

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Many people, myself included, have written about why 2010 isn’t exactly like 1994. Here is another reason: people actually know who Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are, and not in a good way.

Back in 1994, who knew anything about House Speaker Tom Foley or Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell? Voters certainly didn’t. But in the age of 24-hour cable news and instant internet trends, congressional leaders enjoy all-time highs in name recognition – and in this hyper partisan world that may not always play well, especially with moderate and independent voters. Pelosi and Reid’s approach to governing “has been dealing with their base and not managing a majority coalition – they’ve been managing a majority of their majority,” says GOP pollster Dave Winston. “Republicans still have to answer the question: why us? But Pelosi and Reid have given voters a reason to look at Republicans.”

As our former colleague Karen Tumulty noted in last Thursday’s Post, Pelosi is labeled a San Francisco liberal and Republicans accuse every Democratic member or wannabe member of being her lapdogs or puppets. Reid, meanwhile, has become the GOP poster child of backroom dodgy deals. “You know you’re an effective leader when they start running adds against you,” remarks Jim Manley, a senior advisor to Reid.

So famous are Reid and Pelosi that their images are actually being used against Democratic candidates. Thus far this year 65 negative television ads using one or both of their images have aired a combined 18,000 times – an estimated value of $5 million, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising. Of course, not all of it has been that effective. The ad that Karen cites, “The Attack of the 50-foot Pelosi,” ran in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district – a special election that Republicans lost. “They’ve tried this cycle after cycle — ‘06, ’08,” says Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “It continues to be a strategy that doesn’t yield any results for them.”

Still, it’s effective enough that Dems are starting to emulate it. This week the DNC is running ads starring, guess who?, Minority Leader John Boehner. Boehner has come under fire for comparing the financial crisis to an ant and the financial regulatory reform bill to a nuclear weapon Dems are using to kill the ant. “You’ll see more of those — his name recognition will go up,” Hammill says, “especially after his ant remarks.”