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House leaders aren’t ad fodder anymore. Mike Johnson, Hakeem Jeffries

House leaders aren’t ad fodder anymore

For the first time in more than a decade, the leaders of both parties in the House are no longer fodder for partisan attack ads.

Gone are the days of omnipresent “Fire Pelosi” ads or the blasts on former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Instead, ad makers are essentially ignoring Speaker Mike Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries altogether.

An AdImpact analysis of campaign ads this cycle found that not a single dollar has been spent on negative ads tying Democrats to Jeffries. Just $45,000 has been spent on attack ads linking Republicans to Johnson.

These figures stand in stark contrast to how Republicans treated former Speaker Nancy Pelosi throughout her career in Democratic leadership. The first female speaker drew the ire of Republicans nationwide and served as a symbol of Democratic liberalism. During the 2022 cycle alone, more than $41 million of negative ads mentioning Pelosi were run in House campaigns across the country, according to AdImpact.

Democrats have tried to paint Johnson as “MAGA Mike,” tying him to former President Donald Trump. And the House Republican campaign arm has sent out releases tying vulnerable Democrats to Jeffries.

But members we spoke to told us that amid the 2024 presidential cycle, the new congressional leaders just don’t pack the same punch as their party’s standard bearers. Instead of hitting Johnson — who’s only been speaker for seven months — Democrats are turning their attention to Trump. And rather than going after Jeffries, Republicans are hitting President Joe Biden.

“We know that the party leader on the Republican side is Donald Trump. There is nobody else,” DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene told us. “They all just look to him for feedback on anything they do.”

On the GOP side, Jeffries is an unknown quantity nationwide — largely because he’s never served as speaker before.

“There are different battle cries today,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former NRCC chair who used Fire Pelosi to win back the majority in 2010. “And that battle cry is really against everything that is embodied with the Biden administration and the Democrats. It’s easy to pin the tail on the donkey.”

While Pelosi’s role as top campaign antagonist is unparalleled, Democrats also dedicated $607,000 in ads tying GOP vulnerable members to McCarthy in 2022.

The only House ad mentioning Jeffries so far this cycle that AdImpact flagged was a spot from Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) touting Jeffries’ endorsement. Despite spending $566,000 on that ad, Trone failed to win the Senate primary.

Another factor at play: Johnson and Jeffries are relatively boring compared to Trump and Biden. Neither leader animates the other side’s base in the way the presidential candidates do.

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.