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Uphill Climb for Candidates Challenging Leaders

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Nancy Pelosi's Republican challenger released an original ad to get some attention in his longshot bid for Congress.

With Halloween just passed, one could be forgiven for thinking the video of a deranged-looking lady surrounded by Latin-speaking zombies sacrificing a lamb in a cavernous lair is a spooky meme.

But the video released early last month is actually a Web ad for John Dennis (R) lampooning his opponent in California’s new 12th district: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D). The ad was cut by Chris Burgard, the mind behind then-
presidential candidate Herman Cain’s infamous “Smoking” spot, and it has a simple message: Dennis is no sacrificial candidate.

The libertarian businessman, who has been endorsed by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), saves the lamb from a knife-wielding zombie in the video, proclaiming, “She is not a sacrificial lamb, and neither am I.”

“It’s not that subtle,” Dennis said in an interview, but it might make a few people pay attention. “One thing I’m running into in San Francisco is no one will listen. It’s like everyone’s a zombie.”

That experience is not Dennis’ alone. He is one of a few candidates challenging the House’s top leaders this year, trying to turn their influence into a weakness by charging that their leadership responsibilities make them neglect their constituents.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have been subjected to the same charge. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, escaped a general election challenge and handily vanquished a primary opponent earlier this year.

Cantor’s Democratic foil, lawyer Wayne Powell, is running in the GOP-heavy district with the slogan: “A Democrat who just might be your kind of Republican.” In a TV ad, he knocks on a door asking for votes. A potential voter warms to his ideas before finding out he is a Democrat and slamming the door on him.

“Some people don’t even want to like me,” Powell said in a phone interview last week on the way to an “Oh, Cantor, Where Art Though?” rally featuring bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. “Then, of course they realize they have a man who’s in Congress who’s never there.”

Like Dennis’ zombie video, Powell’s campaign lacks no amount of hyperbole. That’s a prerequisite when his strategist is noted sharp-tongued operative Dave “Mudcat” Saunders.

“What he does is represent all the greediest among us and his corporate moguls and his sugar daddies,” Powell said of Cantor. “All this makes him look the arrogant, self centered, power-hungry person that he is in Congress.”

That kind of talk, Cantor spokesman Ray Allen said, is not going over well in the district.

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