On May 24, New York’s 26th congressional district will vote for a new representative, and the Republican nominee, state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, is already calling her Democratic opponent, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, "Nancy Pelosi's hand-picked candidate."
Corwin's campaigning-by-numbers (Step One: Link your opponent to Nancy Pelosi!) isn’t fair, but it suffers from perhaps a much more formidable election-time liability: It’s dated. She's attacking the decimated opposition in the House? How much can Republicans really gain from demonizing Pelosi now?
Well into his first term, President Obama and his Democratic allies blamed former president Bush for the lousy economy, the large deficit and the D.C. culture of kick-the-can-ism they inherited. They had some legitimate points. But the 2009 off-year elections — gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and a few congressional special elections — weren't about Bush. Republicans, blasting the spending of the early Obama years, captured both governor's mansions with campaigns that stressed fiscal rectitude. Democrats took a House seat from the GOP, but only because of a Tea Party civil war on the right.
Elections are about what's happening now, and Pelosi isn't, well, happening.
Republicans have the largest GOP House majority in decades. Pelosi’s opposition to cuts in a temporary continuing resolution earlier this month did nothing to change the shape of the deal. And in February, Google searches for terms relating to Pelosi were at their lowest level since August of 2006 (see chart).
This year, for the first time, searches for terms relating to House Speaker John Boehner have consistenly outpaced those relating to Pelosi. All of which indicates that, though the Republicans will still have a prominent foil in President Obama through 2012, they will also have to account in some way for their tenure in the speaker’s chair.
Here’s the fascinating caveat to all of this: Bush had retired outright by 2009, whereas Pelosi's still in office, trying to reassert herself. Perhaps, when the full House is up for election in 2012 and there's any possibility she might wield the gavel again, she will be a liability for Democratic candidates. But if I were Corwin's campaign manager — or that of any GOP candidate this year — I'd recommend ditching the Pelosi stuff and staying laser-focused on the deficit.