By Alexander Bolton - 04/25/14 06:00 AM EDT
Harry Reid is replacing Nancy Pelosi as the Republicans' favorite villain.
Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, has become the Democratic leader in Congress that conservative radio hosts and donors love to hate, leaving Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, as something of an afterthought.
Pelosi traditionally has been the Republicans' chief fundraising magnet on Capitol Hill. Republicans note she is a wealthy denizen of San Francisco and fits into the stereotype of a limousine liberal. GOP fundraisers have demonized Pelosi for millions of dollars in donations.
“I think Harry Reid is trying to replace Nancy Pelosi as the Democrat that Republicans most love to hate,” said David Di Martino, a Democratic strategist and former Senate aide. “What you’re seeing with Sen. Reid is a frustration that’s manifested after years of obstruction that is all fueled by the Koch brothers and the right wing groups that have spent the last six years blocking everything the Democrats want to do.”
A GOP strategist said Pelosi is still No. 2 on the list of liberal villains that scare conservative donors into action, after President Obama. But others say Reid has become a more compelling bogeyman.
The main reason? Pelosi no longer runs the House, after the GOP reclaimed the lower chamber in 2010. Republicans have been unable to strip Reid of his majority leader title, but they think this will be the year they do that.
“He has a lot more power than she does,” said Matt Keelen, a GOP strategist and former fundraiser. “He’s the perfect foil for House Republicans. They can say we passed bills to help the economic situation in the country, and the Senate hasn’t picked them up.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared Reid political enemy No. 1 on Wednesday, when he announced Republicans would push an ethics complaint against the Democratic leader for using his official website and Twitter feed to bash GOP mega donors Charles and David Koch.
“Harry Reid is so dirty and so unethical that some of these things have to happen,” he said on Fox News Channel, defending the complaint.
Jon Ralston, a prominent Nevada-based political commentator, said Reid is happy to be a Republican target because it takes the heat off his colleagues in tough races.
“He loves being the lightning rod because he knows that it’s not going to change his numbers much in the state. He doesn’t care at all what his numbers are nationally,” said Ralston. “It doesn’t hurt him, and it distracts Republicans. I’m sure he was chuckling as he saw what Priebus is doing.”
Fox host Sean Hannity this week blasted Reid’s behavior as “outrageous” after the Democratic leader called Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — who is in a standoff with federal authorities over public grazing land — and his supporters “domestic terrorists.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) earlier this year called on Reid to apologize for questioning the honesty of people who claimed they were hurt by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“There are plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue, but they’re being told all over America,” Reid said.
“Normally, I would be shocked that those words would come out of the majority leader of the United States Senate’s mouth, but with Harry Reid, I’m not shocked at all,” Johnson told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. “That’s pretty sad commentary on how dysfunctional and the type of leader he really has been. He’s destroying the Senate.”
“He certainly puts his foot in his mouth from time to time. That definitely inflames the activist conservative base, and he seems to relish that,” said Keelen.
Republicans have tried to tie Senate Democratic candidates around the country to Reid as well as Obama.
Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), this week charged that Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s (D) campaign is “bought and paid for by President Obama and Harry Reid.”
Earlier this year, the NRSC launched a Web ad portraying Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) as Reid’s puppet and accusing the leader of masterminding a scheme to circumvent Montanans in choosing former Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) successor.
Reid has reserved his sharpest salvoes for the Koch brothers, who have funded about $30 million in attack ads against Democratic candidates this election cycle. He has blasted them as “un-American” and accused them of “trying to buy America.”
Even one of Reid’s Senate Democratic colleagues, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), has criticized Reid for going too far.
“You don’t beat up people. I mean, I don’t agree with their politics or philosophy, but, you know, they’re Americans, they’re doing — paying their taxes,” he said in a Fox interview. “They’re not breaking the law. They’re providing jobs.”
Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran (R) and Pat Roberts (R) both took to the Senate floor to rebuke Reid for slamming the Koch brothers.
“I was saddened; I was dismayed; I was discouraged to see the floor of the Senate used as a venue for such campaign-related attacks,” said Roberts.
Far from feeling chastened, Reid slammed his colleagues for defending the wealthy industrialists.
“Many Republican senators these days might as well wear Koch Industries insignias,” he said on the Senate floor earlier this month. “While they don’t wear Koch Industries ties and jackets, they display their sponsors proudly through their actions here in the United States Senate.”
Reid’s spokesman said his boss has no intention of changing his hard-knuckled tactics anytime soon.
“I guess Reince Priebus's motto is, 'If you can't beat him, whine about him,'” said Adam Jentleson, Reid's communications director.
“Two months ago, no one was talking about the Koch brothers; now they are a major factor in the national conversation and on the ground,” Jentleson added. “Until Republicans find the guts to stand up to these shadowy billionaires who are trying to rig the country to benefit the top one percent instead of blindly doing their bidding at every turn, Sen. Reid is going to continue to speak out.”