- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

UPDATED:

With President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove gone, the Democrats have lost easily identifiable right-wing leaders to vilify.

But Democrats think they’ve found a replacement - Rush Limbaugh - even if most Americans aren’t buying it.

When asked if “Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party,” 59 percent of 1,000 likely voters polled in a national survey disagreed, while 29 percent agreed, according to the Rasmussen polling firm.

”The strategy to use Rush Limbaugh as the poster boy for all things Republican helps the Democrats the most right now because it galvanizes their support of Obama and opposition against Republicans,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

Among Democrats, it’s playing better. Forty-four percent agree Mr. Limbaugh is the de facto head of the Republican Party.

At the same time, Operation Limbaugh, which was reportedly hatched by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Democratic operatives, is risky, especially since the popular conservative radio host isn’t confined by the typically restrained language of elected lawmakers.

“Rush Limbaugh has fired up the base of the Republican Party there is no question, and those are the activists that will be needed to get them back on their feet,” Mrs. Marsh said.

About 81 percent of Republicans disagree that Mr. Limbaugh leads their party, and elected Republican leaders have begun to push back.

Minority Leader Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio blasted the White House for diverting attention from serious economic issues facing the nation.

Mr. Limbaugh, who has been the Republican Party’s “poster boy” at least twice before, has strode happily into his new role as he expressed appreciation to President Obama and his top aides for putting him in the political cross-hairs.

“I want to thank you guys for elevating me beyond the stature I already earned and achieved, because now more and more Americans have the opportunity to learn who you really are,” he said on his radio show Wednesday.

While Mr. Obama is clearly the leader of the Democrats, the Republican Party is suffering from a power vacuum at the top. With Sen. John McCain’s loss and pledge not run again for president, dozens of Republicans are jockeying for power, but none is clearly in charge.

The party’s leaders in the House and Senate - Mr. Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky - are not exactly household names and are, by design or not, cautiously non-charismatic. Thus, the radio’s right-wing mouthpiece, who has been unabashed in his criticism of Mr. Obama, has been cast in the role in the Democratic plot.

“Rush is poised to become the new ‘mean, angry, greedy white guy’ poster boy and that’s bad news for the Republicans,” said Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon.

“America decided to go in a different direction than the angry white guy on Election Day and they aren’t sorry about that decision. … I hope he keeps running his mouth because no matter how much money Democrats spend, if Limbaugh is the alternative, Democrats will remain on top.”

But voters also put Mr. Obama in office based on his plan to change the nation’s political discourse, something the White House already has admitted to lowering with its attacks on Mr. Limbaugh and other conservative reporters, commentators and pundits who have questioned policy decisions.

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