House Democrats Join Anti-Boehner Crusade

Posted September 13, 2010 at 7:14pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders are taking a cue from President Barack Obama and launching a campaign of their own to cast Minority Leader John Boehner as an election-year foil.

Democrats have been working to reframe the midterm elections as a choice between the “failed Bush-era policies” of the past and policies that are putting the country on a path toward economic prosperity. And in recent days House Democrats have followed Obama’s lead and zeroed in specifically on Boehner — who has made no secret of his plan to oust the California Democrat and take over as Speaker — as their central villain.

“In order to make an election about a choice, there has to be an alternative,” said a House Democratic leadership aide, who added that Democrats would continue to “shine a light on what that alternative is.”

On Monday, for example, Pelosi’s office sent out a series of e-mails criticizing Boehner by name and blasting the Ohio Republican’s stance on everything from financial reform to tax breaks for homeowners. The subject line in one of them read: “House Republican Leader Boehner and GOP Continue to Stand With Wall Street, Not Middle Class.”

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami downplayed the notion that Democrats would focus their fire on Boehner alone, but he said some of the Minority Leader’s recent statements illustrate the “choice” voters have this year.

“If Leader Boehner is out there making statements that give us a chance to highlight our vision versus their vision, we’ll take it,” Elshami said.

Republicans charge that Democrats are acting desperate by going after Boehner so directly. But Democratic leadership aides say that by adding Boehner’s name and face directly to their midterm message they can better energize their base and try to close the voter enthusiasm gap. And they believe that Boehner’s very public campaign for Speaker — which has included a series of recent policy speeches across the country — has provided them an opening to define him on their terms.

Boehner isn’t that well-known, at least not yet. And while some would argue that makes it more difficult for Democrats to create a caricature of him, Democrats believe it gives them an opportunity to try to define him. A CNN poll conducted Sept. 1-2 found that 55 percent of Americans either don’t know who Boehner is or have no opinion of him.

“I would expect the focus on John Boehner will only increase,” the leadership aide said. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park for him. Very few people know what he stands for, and it is incumbent upon us to lay out what a John Boehner leadership would mean for America and compare it to what we would do.”

In a speech last week in Cleveland on the economy, Obama mentioned Boehner by name eight times. The speech was designed to rebut a similar speech the Minority Leader gave in the same city last month.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and other Obama allies have also been touting a Sunday New York Times story that highlights Boehner’s ties to lobbyists. (Gibbs has made it a recent practice to use his Twitter feed to blast Boehner and his positions.)

“The strategy is to make sure that the choice Americans have this fall is crystal clear,” a White House official said. “Boehner is obviously a part of that. But we’re in constant contact with our partners on Capitol Hill about any number of things that we’re working on.”

But Boehner spokesman Michael Steel countered that the Democrats’ new focus on his boss simply demonstrates how fearful they are of a GOP takeover on Nov. 2.

“What you’re seeing is desperate Washington Democrats flailing,” Steel said. “They can’t win the policy debate because the American people are on our side on taxes, spending and jobs. So they’re resorting to half-baked partisan attacks. … We went from the president referring to John Boehner as ‘the man who thinks he is going to be Speaker,’ to mentioning him by name eight to 10 times in his speech.”

Democrats argue that Boehner is making himself an easy target. On Monday, Democrats seized on comments the Ohio Republican made Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” in which he showed flexibility on whether he would allow any of the Bush-era tax cuts to expire. Boehner said that he would support legislation allowing the tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans if that was the only choice he had.

Another Democratic leadership aide said Boehner has successfully “made himself the face of the party,” adding that the move would backfire because House Republicans’ record on issues such as privatizing Social Security and preventing outsourcing would make him a “natural target” for Democrats.

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did not mention Boehner by name. But he did drive home the message that Democrats would rescue this election by showing a contrast with Republicans and paraphrasing Vice President Joseph Biden’s assertion that voters “are not going to compare [Democrats] with the almighty.”

“They’re going to compare us with the alternative, an alternative that wants to go back to the exact same Bush policies … which led to high deficits, the worst job performance of any administration since Herbert Hoover, and extraordinary reduction in wealth of our country,” Hoyer said.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.