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House Democrat distances from Obama, Pelosi in TV ad

By Aaron Blake

A House Democrat in Indiana is using images of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a new ad separating himself from his party's leaders, a potential preview of the blueprint targeted Members will employ in the coming midterm campaign.

In the ad, Rep. Joe Donnelly, who opposes the Obama Administration's lawsuit against the stringent new Arizona illegal immigration law, strikes several conservative notes on the issue. He supports more border agents, penalizing businesses that hire illegal immigrants, deporting illegal immigrants convicted of felonies and eliminating "amnesty."

"That may not be what the Washington crowd wants, but I don't work for them. I work for you," Donnelly says, as images of Obama, Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner come on to the screen.

Democrats and Donnelly's camp sought to downplay the use of the Democratic leaders in the ad, pointing out that it also includes Boehner and saying Donnelly's independence is well-established.

"It's not a mean-spirited comment," said a source close to Donnelly, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. The source added: "We're taking a shot at Washington, generally."

Still, it remains highly unusual to slap images of your own party leaders in an ad and talk about how you disagree with them.

Former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) ran ads in 2008 talking about his independence from then President George W. Bush on the Iraq War. But the ads didn't feature the president's image and were in the words of Democrats who supported Smith, making the connection less personal and direct.

Similarly, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) ran an ad around the same time in which his wife noted his independence from "the president." The word "Bush" was never used, and neither was Bush's image.

Party leaders sometimes bristle when their candidates decline to say whether they would support them for their leadership posts or publicly question them during campaigns, but Donnelly's campaign and Democratic leaders both insist there are no hard feelings over the ad.

Republicans said the ad amounts to desperation.

"Whether it's supporting the failed stimulus package or caving to political pressure to pass a government takeover, Donnelly has always been there to rubber-stamp the Obama-Pelosi agenda, and no campaign ad can change that," said Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Perhaps more interesting than the images used in the ad is the member from whom it's coming. Donnelly isn't in a conservative district and isn't considered among the most vulnerable incumbents. The Cook Political Report does not include his seat among the 30 most competitive districts held by Democrats. In fact, his 2nd district is considered far less vulnerable than Indiana's 8th and 9th -- both of which are also held by Democrats.

A poll commissioned recently by the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List showed Donnelly leading state Rep. Jackie Walorski 52 percent to 35 percent and Democrats leading the generic ballot in the district 42 percent to 37 percent.

Many Democrats would love to have those kinds of numbers.

So if someone like Donnelly feels the need to take such an unusual step, what can we expect from other Democrats in the months to come?

By Aaron Blake  |  August 10, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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