WASHINGTON (AFP) – US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proved an irresistible target to Republicans, who have branded the powerful Democrat a “wicked witch” and a would-be puppy killer ahead of November 2 elections.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has staged a nationwide “Fire Nancy Pelosi” bus tour to energize core supporters for the fight to retake the US Congress and dump the San Francisco lawmaker from her lofty perch.
Republicans have spoofed Pelosi as Disney’s would-be Dalmatian skinner “Cruella,” and portrayed her as “the wicked witch” of high taxes in a television commercial that sees her challenger melt her down to nothing with a bucket of water — a nod to “The Wizard of Oz.”
Pelosi, whose office says she has raised 52.3 million dollars this election cycle and held 212 political events in 24 US states plus Puerto Rico, recently shrugged off the attacks at a recent Washington forum for powerful women.
If “no one’s talking about you, you have to wonder what you were doing,” she said, calling the often personal attacks the “highest compliment” and stressing that US politics requires “a suit of armor” and the ability “to take a punch.”
Pelosi, who as House speaker is technically the third-ranking elected US official, has pulled few punches in pushing President Barack Obama’s agenda through a sometimes reluctant House of Representatives, even with numerous Democratic defections.
She powered an 800-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan to passage in February 2009, drove legislation to fight climate change through in June 2009, and led a Wall Street overhaul bill over Republican objections in June 2010.
Defending the largely party-line votes on such sweeping measures, Pelosi, 70, says “bipartisanship is nice, but it cannot be a substitute for action, not having it cannot prevent us from going forward.”
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner has described himself as “hopping mad” over some of Pelosi’s hardball tactics — notably the 11th-hour unveiling of the text of the controversial climate bill.
And deep US public frustration at the sour US economy and stubbornly high unemployment hovering near 10 percent now threatens to cost Democrats their majority in the House if Republicans can post a net gain of 39 seats.
“She’s an inviting target, because she’s emblematic of the Congress, and voters have very little respect, now, for Congress as an institution,” according to Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
And Republicans aim to “make her the poster child for a misbehaving and misguided Congress,” much as then-president Bill Clinton vilified then-house speaker Newt Gingrich, West told AFP.
But Republicans are not Pelosi’s only problem: Vulnerable centrist Democrats like Representative Chet Edwards of Texas, who she once floated as a possible running mate for then-candidate Obama, are running away from her.
Edwards recently unveiled a television ad that declares: “When President Obama and Nancy Pelosi pressured Chet Edwards, Chet stood up to them and voted ‘no’ against their trillion-dollar health care bill, and no to cap-and-trade,” as the climate bill is known.
There have been many women advisers to US presidents, three women US secretaries of state, two women US vice presidential hopefuls from major parties — but only one woman House speaker, second in line for the presidency.
Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro was born to a political family with roots in Venice, Genoa, Abruzzi, Campobasso and Sicily and raised in Baltimore’s “Little Italy.”
“We were devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and staunchly Democratic,” she once wrote.
She was first elected to Congress in 1987, joined the Democratic House leadership in 2001, became the first woman to lead a major US party in the House in 2002, rising to speaker after Democrats won a majority in 2006.
Pelosi has been a force on US foreign policy, notably leveling forceful attacks on China’s human rights record, criticizing the war in Iraq and making frequent trips to Italy.