- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

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 Mrs. Pelosi has trounced opponents for two decades.

The real estate investor is a huge long shot, but has attracted more attention than Mrs. 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.

Mr. 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, Mr. Dennis ultimately defeats Mrs. Pelosi by dousing her with water from a bucket labeled “Freedom.”

His sense of humor extends to his own long-shot campaign.

“For my first run at office, I decided to aim low,” he joked in a recent telephone 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 Mr. Dennis and his candidacy “irrelevant” and scoffed at the idea that Mrs. 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.

Mrs. 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.

Mr. Dennis, 47, believes his platform will appeal to more than just the diehard 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 Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage positions he hopes will help him with independent voters.

He says the reaction he receives most often on the campaign trail is surprise.

“I’m trying to break down stereotypes of Republicans in San Francisco so that people hear me, connect with me,” he said of the “Wizard of Oz” parody and recent campaign stops that include a gay bar in San Francisco’s Castro district.

A visit to the wealthy neighborhood where both Mr. Dennis and Mrs. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Bourne, 32.

But Mr. Bourne said he is so sick of “all the noise” from this year’s candidates that he likely wouldn’t even show up at the polls.

Mr. Dennis is not afraid to point out what he sees as major flaws in the Republican Party’s record. At an anti-war rally on Sept. 4, 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 of about 300 people. “We must understand that the battle is not between the left and the right. The battle is between Washington and us.”

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