The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Top GOP super PAC sets its 2018 strategy: Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday. (AP)

The leader of the most important House GOP super PAC said Tuesday that the group will double-down on tried-and-true tactics for electing Republicans in 2018: tying Democratic candidates to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has ties to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), plans to spend $100 million on next year’s midterm elections, and Executive Director Corry Bliss said in a memo released Tuesday that he sees no reason to abandon a strategy that has paid dividends for six years — most recently in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where CLF advertising featuring Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her San Francisco district helped define and defeat Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff in this month’s special election there.

“During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi’s toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies,” Bliss said in the memo.

Democrats reel from another special-election loss, and some point fingers at Pelosi

Supporting that decision is not only the result in Georgia, where CLF funded $7 million worth of mailers and TV spots featuring cable cars and hippies, but a spate of internal polling that CLF shares in the memo for the first time. In 11 districts Democrats have identified as 2018 targets, Pelosi’s favorability is at least 10 points underwater. In one district — Nebraska’s 2nd, where Democrat Brad Ashford is seeking to reclaim the seat he lost last year to Republican Don Bacon — 60 percent of those polled had an unfavorable impression of Pelosi.

“While results pointed to different sets of key issues from one district to the next, we did find a common denominator: Nancy Pelosi,” Bliss wrote.

The group did not release any details about the specific dates or methodology of its polling. While it is not unusual for a congressional leader to be widely unpopular, what is unusual is the relentlessness of the GOP’s targeting of Pelosi.

But Jorge Aguilar, a spokesman for Pelosi’s political operation, challenged the effectiveness, saying “there is no evidence to suggest this strategy works.”

“If anything this memo shows Republicans are on defense,” he said. “Desperation is not a strategy and Republicans will not be able to spend $25 million on each and every seat,” as they did in Georgia. (Democrats spent more there — in excess of $30 million.)

The memo comes as House Democrats reconvene in Washington after a week of finger-pointing about the Georgia loss — and after a new round of unrest among a small cadre of younger Democrats eager to see Pelosi step aside. The CLF’s open commitment to pursuing an anti-Pelosi message in key battleground districts could help fuel the internecine sniping even after Pelosi moved sharply on Thursday to shut down her internal critics.

‘I’m worth the trouble, quite frankly’: A defiant Nancy Pelosi dismisses her critics

“Every attack provokes a massive reaction that is very encouraging to me from my members, from our supporters outside and across the country,” she told reporters, touting her fundraising and organizational prowess and accusing her critics of acting out of “personal ambition.”

Pelosi also made the point, rooted in national polling, that she is not any more unpopular than Ryan is: “His numbers are no better than mine. The difference is we don’t engage in the politics of personal destruction.”

The pertinent issue, however, is that Republicans believe Pelosi is especially unpopular in districts Democrats need to win in order to take back the majority.

“Voters associate Pelosi with higher taxes, bigger government, the failures of Obamacare and the dangerous Iran deal,” Bliss said in the memo. “The recent special elections continue to show that when voters learn about a candidate’s ties to Nancy Pelosi and her agenda — they reject it.”