Even in Mississippi, it’s about Pelosi

By Patsy Brumfield / NEMS Daily Journal

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is America’s latest political boogeyman, uh, boogeywoman.
Pundits, campaign leaders and political observers agree that this campaign season, she’s the new national target, in the tradition of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts or GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The California Democrat also is unwittingly helping Republicans raise money and causing more than a few headaches for the more conservative members of her party, like U.S. Rep. Travis Childers of Booneville.
Firenancypelosi.com is a Republican-sponsored website that’s gained traction since the Obama Administration passed health care reform in March. So far, it’s brought in more than $1.5 million for the GOP’s push to regain congressional seats.
In North Mississippi’s 1st District race for Congress, the anti-Pelosi mantra is a staple with state Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo, who’s seeking to unseat Childers.
As late as Friday, Nunnelee was verbally blasting her via headline networking site Twitter.
Over the July 4 weekend, at the traditional Jacinto political speaking, Nunnelee spoke for several minutes about his legislative record and his political views.
As he closed his talk, he said “thank you” to the listeners, and then, not to forget his favorite line he reminded them, “Oh, and I’ll vote to fire Nancy Pelosi.” It got good applause.
In politics, using a national bugaboo is nothing new.
“When I heard about ‘Fire Nancy Pelosi,’ I immediately thought about Jesse Helms,” said Ferrel Guillory, a Louisiana native and former journalist now teaching Southern politics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Helms was an ultra-conservative U.S. North Carolina senator and an anti-integration lightning rod.
Helms used the liberal, politically royal Kennedy as his campaign foil through the years, even though they never ran against each other for anything.
“Teddy Kennedy raised millions of dollars for Jesse Helms, whenever he said, ‘We’ve got to defeat Teddy Kennedy,’” Guillory recalled.
Guillory and some other political observers say the “Fire Nancy Pelosi” gets a much bigger reaction or “bounce” than blasting President Obama.
Pelosi, they say, has attributes that strike a negative chord with some voters: She’s Italian, she’s Catholic, she’s liberal, she’s from San Francisco, she’s a woman.
In Northeast Mississippi, Nunnelee upbraids Pelosi every chance he gets. His campaign e-mails and remarks always include something about dethroning Pelosi.
“The citizens of the 1st Congressional District understand that Nancy Pelosi and her appointed committee chairmen control the legislative agenda of Congress,” said Nunnelee campaign consultant Morgan Baldwin of Tupelo.
“This liberal leadership and their agenda do not mesh with 1st District voters and their values,” he noted, claiming Childers has been their “enabler” with his party vote for her as speaker.
Childers campaign adviser Brad Morris is quick to respond.
“Nancy Pelosi keeps coming up because Alan Nunnelee can’t run on his record and can’t run against Travis’,” Morris said. “I can’t say I blame him” for playing the Pelosi card.
Morris turned questions to Nunnelee’s record as a state senator with budget-cutting votes affecting education and teacher jobs.
“He’s just waving a red herring,” Morris added. “Nancy Pelosi is not on the Nov. 2 ballot.”
Months ago, Childers had a straightforward answer to criticism that he voted for Pelosi over Republican John Boehner of Ohio: What did you expect me to do? Vote for a Republican? What do you think he would have done for me, if I had? Nothing.
Pelosi appointed Childers to seats on committees for agriculture and financial services.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Hall reacted much the same way as Morris but said he believes Childers has voted his own mind, not as a Pelosi pawn.
“He’s been an independent vote for North Mississippi,” Hall said.
Brad White, Mississippi Republican Party chairman, said Nunnelee’s attack on Childers by using Pelosi crystalizes what they perceive to be public displeasure with the direction Congress is taking.
“Obviously, if you want to change the direction, you start with changing the people driving the boat,” White said. “Politics is a team sport in Washington and Congressman Childers is on the Pelosi team.”
That may be one of the few differences between the candidates, both pro-gun, pro-life, fiscal conservatives.
That’s why Nunnelee wants to “nationalize” the race, while Childers probably wants to keep it local, Guillory speculates.
“The GOP challenger against a conservative Democrat wants to paint him as part of the national Democrats,” Guillory said. “Clearly, they’ve done polling that says Nancy Pelosi gets the juices flowing.”
While you’d hardly believe one rural district in North Mississippi matters on the national political map, it’s a numbers game for the GOP to take the House back, one seat at a time.
“The 1st District is one skirmish in that battle,” Guillory said. “This is not a local race any more. None of them is.”

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, or her posts on Twitter and Facebook.