Meet John Boehner. And say goodbye to the "party of no."
Democrats are launching the final phase of the congressional campaign season by building up the would-be House speaker, House Minority Leader John Boehner, in an attempt to tear Republicans down.
It's a strategy that gives them the chance to highlight the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, in a campaign Democrats have long said they need to be about a choice of policy directions, rather than a referendum on President Obama's agenda.
But elevating a nemesis can have unexpected consequences, and engaging Boehner directly -- thus giving more attention to ideas put forward by Republicans -- could rob Democrats of the ability to make the case that the president and others have been building for months: that Republicans stand only for saying "no" to Democratic initiatives.
The Boehner-as-bogeyman strategy is broadly reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton's direct engagement with Newt Gingrich in his battles with Republicans in the 1990s -- fights that engaged a considerably higher-profile GOP leader than Boehner.
The president sought to draw contrasts on the economy last Monday by referencing "the man who thinks he's going to be speaker;" by Wednesday, Obama mentioned "Mr. Boehner" eight times in a major address on job creation. The Democratic National Committee is also targeting Boehner this week, in a new cable TV ad.
The tactic gives Democrats an opening to highlight some of the more controversial statements and positions of Boehner, R-Ohio, and members of his caucus. They point out that Boehner has said he'd repeal the health care law along with financial regulatory reform, and has said he'd cut federal spending to 2008 levels, without specifying which programs would face the budget ax.
But taking on Boehner builds up a lawmaker who remains little-known to much of the public. Republicans who have long faced the reality of not having central figures in their efforts to oppose the president now have one, as they seek to make a case to the public to be trusted with control of Congress.
Boehner's handling of a question Sunday on extending the Bush tax cuts put his emerging power on display. On one level, his concession that he would vote for a bill that extended the tax cuts to all but families making more than $250,000 a year suggests that the president has an easier path to getting his way on a critical and divisive issue.
At the same time, Boehner's commitment to support a tax cut even if it doesn't do all that he wants it to takes away an argument that Democrats up to and including the president are making: that Republicans are standing in the way of critical jobs legislation this fall.
Now, if the tax cuts aren't extended before the election, it will be that much harder for Democrats to argue that it's Republicans' fault. Boehner and his caucus continue to look forward to the looming debate with anticipation, even though the minority party in the House typically has little say over what legislation passes.
Final Tea Party Test
Meanwhile, Tuesday brings the last major primary day of the year, with seven states plus the District of Columbia choosing nominees for the fall.
In a fitting close to the primary season, several tea party candidates are playing in some of the most closely watched elections -- with the very real possibility that conservative grass-roots energy will snatch a chance of picking up a Senate seat from Republicans.
A sleepy Senate race in tiny Delaware has suddenly gotten national attention, with Republicans growing concerned that their favored candidate for Vice President Joe Biden's old seat, Rep. Mike Castle, could be in danger of falling to a tea-party favorite.
Christine O'Donnell is something of a perennial candidate in Delaware, and is viewed by national and many state-level Republican leaders as standing little chance of winning the Senate seat in the blue-as-they-come Blue Hen State.
But she's also gotten late momentum and attention, with Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., providing late boosts to tea-party groups that have long mistrusted the moderate Castle.
Castle goes into the day a slight favorite. But he and the state Republican Party have had to drain resources to fight off O'Donnell, whose chances are boosted by the fact that Delaware has closed primaries, meaning only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary.
Republican leaders will be glad to put this primary season behind them. But if they prove unable to rally resources to save one of their top recruits -- one who provides a very real pick-up opportunity -- they'll be limping into a general election that they know is a sprint.