SAN FRANCISCO – It’s a popular refrain among Republicans throughout the country this year: A vote for me is a vote to fire Nancy Pelosi.
But only one candidate means it literally.
John Dennis is running against the House speaker in her San Francisco congressional district where Republicans make up just 9 percent of registered voters and Pelosi has trounced opponents for two decades.
The real estate investor is a huge longshot but has attracted more attention than Pelosi’s past challengers. He has been helped by the Republican National Committee’s “Fire Pelosi” national bus tour and other GOP-led efforts to paint her as an out-of-control liberal and remove her from her leadership position.
Dennis has tapped into the anti-Pelosi anger to raise nearly $2 million. He also made national headlines last month with a campy online ad featuring a Pelosi look-alike as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz.” In the spot, Dennis ultimately defeats Pelosi by dousing her with water from a bucket labeled “Freedom.”
His sense of humor extends to his own longshot campaign.
“For my first run at office, I decided to aim low,” he joked in a recent interview. “Seriously though, I think this year there’s a real chance for someone who isn’t just going to be the loyal opposition. I have a real alternative to offer voters of San Francisco, and I think my positions are a better fit than her actions.”
Not surprisingly, Democratic Party leaders disagree. California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton called Dennis and his candidacy “irrelevant” and scoffed at the idea that Pelosi might be at greater risk than in past elections.
“Am I concerned? No more than I’m concerned that the sun will come out at night and the moon will come out in the daytime,” he said.
Pelosi, 70, is similarly unconcerned. She has been traveling the country to raise money for fellow Democrats.
“Getting an even larger majority in her congressional district is not a priority,” Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.
Dennis, 47, believes his platform will appeal to more than just the die-hard conservatives and tea party activists who agree with his call for dramatically reducing federal spending and shrinking the government’s role domestically and overseas.
He also is staunchly anti-war, supports legalizing marijuana and opposes California’s ban on same-sex marriage – positions he hopes will help him with independent voters.
Dennis is not afraid to point out what he sees as major flaws in the Republican Party’s record. At an anti-war rally in September, he placed equal blame on both parties for the country’s current problems.
“No matter who’s in charge, the spending continues; no matter who’s in charge, the wars continue; no matter who’s in charge, the invasions of privacy continue,” he told the crowd.
A visit to the wealthy neighborhood where both Dennis and Pelosi live illustrated the difficulty of the Republican’s task at hand. Out of a dozen people questioned outside a local coffee shop, only one was able to produce his full name unassisted.
One man, David Bourne, seemed like the kind of voter Dennis is counting on: a registered Democrat who remains undecided and thinks the current politicians in Washington haven’t done enough to fix the economy.
“It definitely might be time for something new,” said Bourne, 32.
The GOP establishment has so far been largely hands-off in the contest. On a recent trip to Washington, Dennis did get a few minutes of face time with House Minority Leader John Boehner, Pelosi’s likely successor if the House majority changes hands.
He also ran into his opponent for the first time on that same trip, at a restaurant. With Pelosi rejecting his call for a debate, the two have yet to cross paths in San Francisco.