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Nancy Pelosi is a huge doubled-edged sword for Democrats

Nancy Pelosi isn't going anywhere.In an ...

Posted: May 2, 2018 2:47 PM
Updated: May 2, 2018 2:47 PM

Nancy Pelosi isn't going anywhere.

In an interview with the Boston Globe on Tuesday, the California Democrat, who has led her party in the House for the last 15 years, said of the 2018 midterm election and her future: "We will win. I will run for speaker. I feel confident about it. And my members do, too."

That announcement was greeted with a mixture of joy and disappointment within the Democratic Party. Republicans, on the other hand, were positively gleeful at the prospect of having the unpopular Pelosi to run against this November -- and maybe more Novembers to come.

That reaction typifies the double-edged sword that Pelosi has become for Democrats. She is, without question, the party's best fundraiser and a hero among liberals in and out of Congress. Given those twin strengths, it is virtually impossible for Pelosi to be beaten in an intraparty vote.

At the same time, Pelosi -- thanks to years of sustained attacks from Republicans -- is an unpopular figure in many key districts Democrats need to win the majority this fall. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in March, just 21% had a positive view of Pelosi as compared to 43% who saw her in a negative light.

In recent years, as Democrats have failed to recapture the majority they lost in 2010, more and more rank-and-file Democrats have broken away from Pelosi -- calling for younger (and just plain different) leadership (Pelosi is 78 years old).

In the leadership vote following the 2016 election, nearly one third of the Democratic caucus voted for someone other than Pelosi -- the most opposition she has ever faced. At the same time, the fact that it was a story that Pelosi only won with two-thirds of her caucus speaks to how strong her standing among her peers remains.

"It's always easy to say you want a change in leadership," former New York Rep. Steve Israel told me. "But change requires forethought. Who can raise the hundreds of millions that she can? Who can keep the caucus together as she has? Who can secure the legislative victories she's secured? Sometimes, you don't know what you got until they're gone."

There is no question that Pelosi's fundraising ability cannot be immediately replaced -- and that Democrats might struggle for years to replace it. Pelosi raised more than $16 million in the first three months of 2018, with the vast majority of that total -- $15.4 million -- going directly to the party's campaign arm. Pelosi's office puts her total fundraising since she became a member of the Democratic leadership in 2002 at just south of $660 million. That's a staggering sum for any elected official.

And, the Democratic bench to replace Pelosi is very, very thin. Aside from New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who has been waiting in the wings for years and is increasingly open about his ambitions, there simply are not a large chunk of potential Pelosi successors.

Much of that has to do with Pelosi's longevity. People like Steny Hoyer of Maryland or Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the second and third ranking Democrats in the House, are simply too old to offer themselves as fresh faces in a post-Pelosi era (Hoyer is also 78 years old; Clyburn is 77). Other rising stars within the party -- Israel, Xavier Becerra of California, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida -- have either moved up to the Senate, left Washington for other politics jobs, retired or seen their careers blow up.

All of that makes for a major leadership vacuum if and when Pelosi leaves. She knows that. And she also knows that there is just no math in the Democratic caucus by which she doesn't secure a majority of the votes -- no matter what happens on election day 2018.

The truth is -- and this has been a fact for quite some time now -- there is no one who would stand a chance against her in a leadership election. That reality doesn't preclude the fact that she is increasingly an anchor around the necks of candidates running in politically marginal areas. But, for all of the chatter from Democratic candidates and elected officials about how it's time for Pelosi to go, all of them will admit they can't make it happen.

Pelosi is here to stay. For as long as she wants.

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