WASHINGTON — Republicans on Thursday began unleashing a barrage of television and radio ads, as well as robo-calls, aimed at discrediting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in congressional districts held by Democrats they see as vulnerable.
The effort is the latest signal that despite the California Democrat's insistence that she has no more to say about her May 14 assertion that in 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency misled her and Congress on torture policy, the political firestorm it created continues to smolder.
The latest GOP effort includes a television ad titled "Explanation: Impossible," as well as 32-second recorded phone calls with a woman telling listeners she had an "important voter alert" about how the local congressman "voted to block an investigation" into Pelosi's May 14 comments.
Republicans note that the day after Pelosi made her statement about the CIA, Leon Panetta, the agency director and a former Democratic congressman from California, said CIA officials told her the truth.
The next week, however, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives soundly rejected a Republican-led effort to create a bipartisan committee to investigate Pelosi's statements. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House GOP leader, wants Pelosi to either document her claims or to apologize.
Democrats counter that members cannot publicly disclose the contents of secret briefings. And, they note, Pelosi backs a broad "truth commission" to investigate Bush administration interrogation tactics and other policies.
Boehner himself had said that intelligence officials misled him, though last week he said his situation was different than what Pelosi faces.
In 2007, when the national intelligence estimate about Iran was released, he recalled, "it contradicted most everything I had been told in the six months leading up to it, and that's why I questioned what was coming out of this group that put the report together."
Whether Pelosi, who's considered one of the strongest speakers in years because of her success at winning approval of the economic stimulus, consumer credit card protections and other major legislation this year, will suffer political damage remains an open question.
"For any negative ad to work, it has to have a kernel of truth, and this one does," said Adam Hoffman, professor of political science at Salisbury University in Maryland, in a district where the TV ad is running. "But it also has to have an issue that resonates with voters, and so far, in this area, it's not resonating a lot."
He said in more conservative areas, however, "It might have some effect."
The television ad, running only in the Salisbury-based district of Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Md., says, "Lying to Congress would be a crime, so why won't Pelosi investigate the 'crime?'" Then it points out that Kratovil "sided with Pelosi to block the investigation."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said the effort was "just an attempt to distract from the progress President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic Congress are making on jobs, health care and energy.
Republicans see Pelosi as increasingly vulnerable. A May 19 Gallup poll that found of the 22 percent of Americans paying close attention to the matter, 63 percent disapproved of how she's handled it, while 30 percent approved.
And a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey taken May 14-17 found 39 percent approved of how she's handling her job as speaker, while 48 percent disapproved.
"Pelosi (is) largely losing the public relations game, as she gets a significantly more negative review for her handling of the matter than do the other major players in the controversy, including the CIA," said Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones.
However, he added, "Americans are much more critical of Pelosi's handling of the matter than they are of the broader group of the Democrats in Congress she leads as speaker of the House."
The radio ads, which are to begin running in six districts Friday, also remind listeners that their member of Congress voted against the investigation. Or as the ad puts it, the member "voted to protect Pelosi. Why?"
The 32-second robo-calls, which cover similar ground, are to begin Friday in 10 districts.
Here are the congressional districts that are getting the robo-call Thursday and Friday:
John Hall - N.Y.-19
Ann Kirkpatrick - Ariz.-01
Harry Mitchell - Ariz.-05
Steny Hoyer - Md.-05
Walt Minnick - Idaho-01
Bobby Bright - Ala.-02
Mark Schauer - Mich.-07
Steve Kagen - Wis.-08
Larry Kissell - N.C.-08
John Boccierri - Ohio-16
And here are the districts that will get the radio ads, starting Friday:
Harry Teague - N.M.-2
Vic Snyder - Ark.-2
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin - S.D.-at large
Suzanne Kosmas - Fla.-24
Glenn Nye - Va.-2
Tom Periello - Va.-5
John Hall - N.Y.-19
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