- Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
Republicans employed a time-tested trick to help them prevail in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District: linking a Democratic candidate to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
As television ads blanketed the Atlanta media market in the lead-up to Tuesday’s historically expensive special election to replace Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Republicans hardly missed a chance to link Democrat Jon Ossoff to the California party leader.
And it might have contributed to Republican Karen Handel’s big win in the district.
“Every morning I wake up and I take a moment to be thankful that the Republican Party still has Nancy Pelosi because Nancy Pelosi is absolutely toxic,” Corry Bliss, the executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican-aligned super PAC, told The Washington Times earlier this week. “This race is a referendum on Nancy Pelosi and her liberal policy agenda, which is just fundamentally out of touch with a vast majority of Americans, as we saw that in Montana.”
In a district that has traditionally backed Republican candidates but went for Hillary Clinton by a slight margin in 2016, Democrats hoped to win over Georgia voters who vote reliably Republican but remain skeptical of President Donald Trump.
But Republicans fought hard to keep the congressional seat, using Pelosi as a tool to try to turn off voters who might swing toward Ossoff.
The Congressional Leadership Fund paid for a car to drive around in the district with Ossoff’s and Pelosi’s faces and a sign that said “San Francisco <3 Jon Ossoff.” The Times also noted that Pelosi was a regular feature in ads and on campaign fliers for the special election.
And Handel rarely missed a chance to link him to Pelosi in her speeches and appearances throughout the campaign.
“Republicans sure don’t want Nancy Pelosi’s guy coming in to try and buy this seat,” Handel told Fox News on Tuesday morning.
Republicans in congressional races for years have made linking Democratic candidates to the House minority leader a major campaign strategy, and Pelosi remains broadly unpopular in Georgia’s traditionally Republican-leaning 6th District. Fifty-eight percent of likely voters in the district in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll held an unfavorable view of Pelosi.
Political observers and journalists were quick to call out this strategy after Handel’s win Tuesday night.
Single most effective thing Democrats could do to help their chances in 2018?
Nancy Pelosi announces she's retiring.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 21, 2017
If Handel wins, one takeaway will be that running against Nancy Pelosi remains a potent message for GOP, even in Trump era. #GA06
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) June 21, 2017
GOP turned to tried/true playbook in GA6: Tied Ossoff to Pelosi. Trump may be unpopular but GOP still able to tie Dems to Pelosi
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) June 21, 2017
No Dem wants to say it publicly, but taking their top bogeyman Pelosi off the table would help too. Fair or not, it's the truth. https://t.co/OlfYJ9H5mC
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) June 21, 2017
If Ossoff loses, it may be worth just noting that the main attack Handel and national GOP used against him is that he'd be a Pelosi puppet
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_Vox) June 21, 2017
For her part, Pelosi has argued that ads highlighting her leadership aren’t likely to be effective considering House Speaker Paul Ryan’s own abysmal approval ratings.
“When Republicans put forth these ads, it shows the bankruptcy of their own initiatives,” Pelosi told NBC News in April. “The voters in their districts want to know what they are going to do for them.”
The minority leader kept her distance from the campaign. She hosted a fund-raiser for Ossoff in Washington, DC, but avoided campaigning for him in the Georgia district.
For his part, Ossoff has said he hasn’t thought about whether he will fully support Pelosi’s agenda in Washington if elected.
“The campaign is about who’s going to deliver results for home, not palace intrigue in Washington,” Ossoff told Politico. “I don’t think the attack ads are having much effect.”