Meet the GOP’s 2014 Bogeyman

Exit Nancy Pelosi. Enter Harry Reid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters about the use of the 'nuclear option' at the U.S. Capitol November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
Dec. 3, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

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.”

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