The Obamacare debacle has gifted Republicans with a fighting chance to retake the U.S. Senate, and who better to cast as the evil spirit that haunts Congress's upper chamber than Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid is the face of a Democratic Senate caucus that has tied itself in knots trying to fix what ails the health care law. Plus, his decision to strip the Republican minority of its power to filibuster President Obama's judicial and executive appointments has unleashed a fresh wave of derision from the GOP. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called Reid "a dictator," and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., declared that the majority leader was acting like a "bully.")
Already, Republicans on the trail are tying their Democratic opponents to Reid.
The Judicial Crisis Network launched a TV ad Monday against vulnerable Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., accusing her of voting to pack the courts with "Obama's liberal activist judges." The ad alludes to Reid's invocation of the "nuclear option" to clear the way for judicial appointments, stating "Landrieu even helped change the rules, helping Obama pack a key court with new liberal judges." The ad includes a photo of Landrieu speaking with Reid looking over her shoulder.
Reid's presence in the ad is particularly notable because the group issued a nearly identical ad targeting Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in early November, before Reid changed the filibuster rules. That ad had no images or references to Reid, signaling that the Senate leader's recent actions have nudged him under the Republican heat lamp.
In Georgia, GOP Senate candidate Phil Gingrey released an ad on Nov. 12 pledging, if elected, to retire after one term if he doesn't successfully repeal Obamacare. Gingrey says, "As a doctor I took an oath to do no harm, and Obamacare is so harmful that I voted to repeal or defund it over 40 times. But our efforts die in the Senate," at which point Reid's image appears as the face of a Democratic Senate resistant to repeal.
Reid's unpopularity is nothing new. His job-approval ratings—along with those of other congressional leaders—have nosedived. In a national Quinnipiac University poll last month, Reid's approval ratings stood at just 27 percent, compared with a 52 percent majority who disapproved. Those ratings were similar to those of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Reid's emergence as the Republican Party's Public Enemy No. 1 bumps Pelosi from the top of the list. Her name and face were regular fixtures in conservative micro-sites, Web ads, TV commercials, and fundraising pitches during the 2010 and 2012 cycles. The playbook against Pelosi was simple: Whether it was her stewardship of Obamacare and the "failed stimulus," or the characterization of her as "a San Francisco liberal," the evocation of her name served as a rallying cry for Republicans looking to win back and protect their majority in the House.
But Pelosi's not in charge of the House anymore, and with the possibility of fundraising to oppose Hillary Clinton perhaps a year or two away, Republicans appear to be looking for a fresh bogeyman.
Brock McCleary, founder of the GOP automated-polling firm Harper Polling and a veteran of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said voters will "greet Harry Reid back as the minority leader" if Republicans can effectively make their case against Obamacare now that it exists as more than "mere theory" as it did in 2010. And if Gingrey's ad is any indication, Reid is likely to become one of the main public faces of the law's problems.
Republican ad maker Brad Todd of OnMessage largely agrees, saying because Obama won't face reelection again and Pelosi has already been deposed, the one place where voters can take out their frustration on Obama's agenda is with Reid. Todd said in past years Reid has "been trickier to use in advertising" because he's been relatively successful at shielding vulnerable members of his caucus from controversial votes. But moving forward, as Reid's "role in the Senate becomes more central" and "the fact that Obamacare has now become as central as it did," Reid will have to "own" his stake in the law's problems and unpopularity.
Todd put it this way: "If you want to change things in Washington, the lever for change is Reid's hold on the Senate."
This article appears in the December 4, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.