Republicans are opening up a new campaign front in the elections that asks voters to think about who will be running Congress if the Democrats are returned to power in November.
People like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who said "I don’t really consider ourselves at war" with terrorism, who believes Osama bin Laden’s capture will not "make us any safer" and who thinks this election "shouldn’t be about national security."
Polls show that most voters do not really know much about what the Democrats would do about Iraq or the war on terrorism because their agenda does not say much about either. Voters know even less about the records and statements of the Democratic leaders who would take over the reins of power if voters put them in charge of the House.
The Republican National Committee and the GOP’s congressional campaign committee, who want to correct this knowledge deficit, have begun an educational offensive to do so. It began last week with the first in a series of research papers on Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.
Pelosi, who could become House Speaker and third in line for the presidency, was asked on "Meet the Press" in May about her pledge to hold investigative hearings on the war in Iraq if Democrats took charge.
Could such hearings lead to President Bush’s impeachment, moderator Tim Russert asked her. "Well," Pelosi replied, "you never know where the facts take you …" While President Bush is sharpening his message on terrorism and other issues that are at stake in this election — and lifting his job-approval polls to 44 percent in the process — the GOP is looking for ways to remind voters that, like Pelosi, the Democrats’ leftist leadership is far outside the nation’s political mainstream.
They have been doing just that lately in congressional races where the Republicans are considered vulnerable. Like Indiana’s 8th district where Republican Rep. John Hostettler faces challenger Brad Ellsworth, sheriff of Vanderburgh County. The NRCC is running a TV ad there that tells voters:
"Here’s something to think about. Democrats in Congress believe that your taxes should be higher to pay for their bigger government. They believe wiretapping of terrorist communications violates civil liberties. And Congressional Democrats believe that illegal immigrants should get amnesty. No matter how you slice it, a vote for Brad Ellsworth is a vote to put these Democrats in charge of Congress. But their agenda is just too risky."
This ad in one variation or another is being run in a number of other districts where Republicans are at risk and, if the polls are accurate, with significant success. The ad not only plants doubts in the minds of swing Democrats and independents, it will motivate Republican turnout, too, GOP officials tell me.
The RNC research papers that will be churned out for the remainder of this election cycle — e-mailed to the GOP’s vast list of 15 million activists — will reinforce these ads and provide fodder for other ads to come.
Most of the GOP’s dossiers are about Democrats who aren’t exactly household names — people like veteran Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. Waxman would become the panel’s chairman with full subpoena power to dig into every nook and cranny of government.
Who is Henry Waxman? First and foremost, one of the most partisan, bare-knuckle pols the Democrats have. Earlier this year, he signed a legal brief filed in U.S. District Court that called domestic terrorist surveillance "illegal." He voted to rescind the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act that Bush says is vital to the war on terrorism. He opposed the $87 billion in funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another target in the RNC’s "educational papers" is Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings, an impeached former federal judge whom Pelosi has indicated she would put in charge of the supersecret House Intelligence Committee.
Hastings, who was indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, was impeached by the House (by a vote of 413-to-3) and removed from the bench in the Senate by a vote of 69-to-26. He later ran and won his seat in a solidly Democratic district.
"That an impeached judge could conceivably become head of the Intelligence Committee I think many Americans would find alarming," RNC spokesman Danny Diaz told me.
But this is a guy who voted against the Patriot Act giving government authorities the tools to protect the country from terrorists in October 2001, just a few weeks after the airline attacks by Islamic fanatics.
Equally alarming is the Democrat in line to chair the House Judiciary Committee: ultra-liberal Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who has all but called for Bush’s impeachment.
This is all pretty outrageous stuff that most Americans will not only find deeply appalling but dangerous. That’s why the Republicans are going to make sure that people know who they’d be putting into critical positions of power if they vote to give the Democrats majority control on Nov. 7.