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Pelosi's national popularity plummets as elections loom

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Is Nancy Pelosi a political liability in the midterm elections?

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By Paul Kane and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 1, 2010; 10:12 AM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) heads into the midterm elections less popular among U.S. voters than at any other time in her historic tenure, while the man who wants to take control of her gavel remains a blank slate to nearly half the nation.

After being targeted in a withering set of commercials by Republicans across the country, the first female speaker is now viewed unfavorably by American voters by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll. Just 29 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of Pelosi in late October, while 58 percent had an unfavorable view.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who withstood his own assault from President Obama and the Democratic National Committee this fall, would also enter the speakership as an unpopular figure. But, apparently because of his much lower national profile, he is far less disliked than Pelosi: 21 percent of registered voters view him favorably while 35 percent view him unfavorably.

Republicans had spent several years trying to demonize the speaker, with little success. A string of candidates in 2008, 2009 and earlier this year lost at the polls after making Pelosi a central figure in the campaign.

Now, on the verge of finally breaking through in their anti-Pelosi campaign, Republicans want to paint the race as a broader reaction than just about the speaker.

"This election is about the American people. It's not a referendum on one person - it's a referendum on Washington Democrats' job-killing agenda," Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, said Sunday.

Pelosi's low national popularity has left her on the sidelines of Tuesday's elections even as her own job as House speaker is on the line (she is still strongly supported in her own district and should coast to reelection).

Because she is so unpopular, no Democrat in a contested election has wanted to appear with Pelosi. Despite raising money in private at a breakneck pace, she has not appeared publicly on the campaign trail with any Democrats this fall.

Pelosi has not addressed whether she would resign from the leadership if Democrats lose the majority. The last speakers to stay on as minority leader after their parties lost control of the House were Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) and Joseph Martin (R-Mass.), who in the late 1940s and early 1950s went back and forth between the two posts.

When viewed over the course of her four-year reign, Pelosi's drop in popularity is steep. In December 2006, just after the Democratic sweep that put her in power, Pelosi was viewed favorably by 46 percent of registered voters and unfavorably by 34 percent. More stunning is how she is viewed by those holding the strongest views of her - a sign of how passionately voters feel about a politician.

Four years ago 17 percent had a "strongly" favorable view of her, while 19 percent had a "strongly" unfavorable view of her. Now, there are fewer people who strongly favor Pelosi - just 12 percent - but the percentage who hold a strongly negative view has more than doubled, to 41 percent. That strong negative number goes up to 47 percent when just likely voters are considered.

Pelosi also has a large problem with centrist voters. Just 26 percent of independents view her favorably, while 61 percent view her unfavorably. Despite Pelosi's breaking of a political glass ceiling by becoming House speaker, independent women dislike her by a 2-to-1 margin.


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