- Associated Press - Sunday, August 15, 2010

Robert Hurt, trying to oust Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello in a central Virginia contest, calls his opponent the “poster child for Nancy Pelosi’s policies.” In Alabama, GOP challenger Martha Roby says Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright “might be a fine person, but he supported Mrs. Pelosi.”

But the big political bull’s-eye on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s back isn’t keeping her from campaigning for Democratic candidates in several states, even if she avoids some of the most conservative regions.

Mrs. Pelosi will attend fundraisers this month in Houston and Dallas, plus make a joint appearance on Monday with President Obama in Los Angeles. She recently headlined a fundraiser in Santa Fe for New Mexico’s three House Democrats, two of whom face tough Republican challengers who criticize their ties to the speaker.

That Aug. 3 event underscored the double-edged nature of Pelosi visits.

No Democrat except Mr. Obama raises more money, say party officials, who credit Mrs. Pelosi with pulling in $189 million since 2003. But she also is the GOP’s favorite target this year, eclipsing even the president in the guilt-by-association tactic that Republicans are using in dozens of races.

As a result, some Democrats like to collect their money with a minimum of public interaction with the liberal from San Francisco. At the Santa Fe event, quietly held in a private home, “Democrats weren’t saying much about the visit,” the Albuquerque Journal reported.

House speakers are powerful figures in Washington. But most could stroll streets outside their district without being recognized. (Think Dennis Hastert, Tom Foley, Jim Wright.)

That’s not true of Mrs. Pelosi. She has attracted attention as the first woman to hold the post and as a fierce tactician who cajoles, charms and strong-arms colleagues to enact difficult bills such as this year’s health care overhaul.

Politicians say she has extraordinarily high name recognition, and many consider her divisive.

Mrs. Pelosi “is the most disliked, distrusted person in American politics,” Republican strategist Chris LaCivita says, a claim hotly disputed by her admirers. Mrs. Pelosi’s hard-driving efforts to pass health care and other bills contribute to her reputation, Mr. LaCivita said, but what is more important, she is the personification of a deeply unpopular Congress.

A new poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 21 percent of Americans approve of Congress while 72 percent disapprove. Five times more people have “very negative” feelings about Mrs. Pelosi than “very positive” feelings, but one-third of those polled were neutral or had no opinion about her.

Three days after Mrs. Pelosi’s Santa Fe visit, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele wore a red hat saying “Fire Pelosi.”

Nonetheless, the speaker will attend more than 35 fundraising and message events during the August recess, her office said. They include several events in her district and other California communities. But some are in less-friendly settings, including Texas, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Louisville, Ky., and Portland, Ore.

Democratic spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said she doesn’t think the anti-Pelosi strategy will work. Similar efforts failed in 2006 and 2008, she said, because voters care mainly about issues in their district and the choice between two candidates on their ballot.