One of the best-known phenomena of this election year has been the exceptional lengths to which Republicans have gone to make the House races a referendum not on Donald Trump but on House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She’s been featured in literally thousands of campaign ads (at one point in the cycle, one-third of GOP-sponsored ads talked about her evil designs on America).
Theories for the bizarre focus on Pelosi range from simple sexism to more complex emotional appeals involving her home city of San Francisco and her perceived (as opposed to real) lefty agenda. More than anything else, it’s probably a sign that Republicans really do believe the key to surviving these midterms is to rile up their own base rather than appealing to swing voters. Pelosi and her city are most definitely a red flag to MAGA people. And it was probably significant that the anti-Pelosi ads of this cycle got a big initial boost in the successful 2017 special-election campaign of Republican Karen Handel against Democrat Jon Ossoff, as this classic ad showed after Ossoff led her in the first round:
This was potent stuff, as I noted at the time:
For your average old white Deep South Republican voter, this ad was like a Red Bull–laced shot of Geritol. It’s got hippies; it’s got minorities; it’s got military-hating lefties; and it’s got the famously gay-friendly City by the Bay front-and-center. Ossoff couldn’t be One of Us, because he was One of Them. And if it’s impossible to prove it worked, it didn’t seem to hurt, as Handel won thanks to strong GOP turnout.
Another Republican running closer to the Mason-Dixon line, Virginia’s Dave Brat, is taking the Pelosi obsession to a whole new, insane level. He isn’t just running an ad or two against Pelosi; he spent an entire debate with his opponent Abigail Spanberger all but ignoring her while mentioning Pelosi 21 times. This mash-up of the debate shows the varying ways Brat worked in references to the satanic San Franciscan — to the point where the audience was laughing at the inanity of it all — and concludes with Spanberger’s tart reminder that her name is not “Pelosi.”
What makes Brat’s gambit especially ridiculous is that Spanberger has repeatedly promised to vote against Pelosi for Speaker if she is elected.
We’ll see if Brat’s hammer-headed messaging works. If so, we can be sure that Richmond will never be in danger of resembling San Francisco.