Rep. Nancy Pelosi has settled a looming question heading into November’s midterm elections: She will run for House speaker if Democrats win a majority this fall.
“We will win. I will run for speaker,” she told The Boston Globe. “I feel confident about it and my members do, too.”
Though it was long assumed that Pelosi would run for speaker again, the assurance is both a gift and a curse for the party heading into this year’s critical midterm elections. It gives more potency to a message Republicans have long employed: Vote for the Democrat, get Pelosi as speaker.
Her comments will now surely be featured in the countless ads that will run between now and November, laying the California Democrat – and her policies – at the feet of Democrats who hope to unseat vulnerable Republicans in swing districts. In response, some Democrats backed by the national party are already running away from her, pledging to vote against her if they get the chance or waffling on the question altogether.
“Pelosi is the face of a far-left, progressive agenda that would do great harm to our country if ever enacted,” Jesse Hunt, press secretary of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said when asked about how Pelosi’s announcement will loom in the election. “Expect support for her to be among the most contentious debates in Democratic primaries over the next few months.”
Pelosi, according to aides and advisers close to her, plans to largely ignore Republican attempts to make her a bogeywoman this year, instead focusing on bringing in the millions that will be critical to flip the House blue this year.
Pelosi is one of the most prolific fundraisers in the Democratic Party. In the first quarter of this year, for example, she raised over $16 million for House Democrats, bringing her total raised this cycle close to $70 million.
In the month of May, according to a Pelosi aide, the minority leader is expected to headline events in Florida, California, Iowa, Illinois, Texas and Colorado, most of which will focus on raising money for candidates.
Earlier this year she defended herself against a Democratic congressional candidate in Georgia who’s finding success running against her and his Republican opponent.
“I think I’m worth the trouble,” she said snappily, seemingly referring to her fundraising prowess.
Even still, the threat of a Pelosi speakership has put pressure on Democrats across the country, many of whom have been given the backing of groups closely aligned with the House minority leader, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC.
At least six of the 41 candidates in the DCCC’s red to blue program, a key distinction that means attention and resources for congressional hopefuls, have said they would not vote for Pelosi as speaker should Democrats win in November.
“The fact is leaders of both parties have let us down,” said Dan McCready, the DCCC-backed candidate for Congress in North Carolina. “It’s time for a change. And that starts at the top.”
Brendan Kelly, the DCCC-backed candidate from Southern Illinois, said that “we need new leadership in both parties.
“I feel that way because the way it’s currently going in D.C. has not served the people of Southern Illinois.”
And Paul Davis, a Democrat running in Kansas’$2 2nd Congressional District, said Congress is broken and “the leaders of both political parties bear responsibility for that.”
“I think that we need new leadership in both political parties,” he added.
All of these as sensitive for the DCCC, an organization closely aligned with Pelosi but whose leadership understands the need for certain candidates to distance themselves from Washington and Pelosi in order to win.
Additionally, though, at least 10 DCCC-backed candidates have punted on the question, telling reporters that they will take a wait-and-see approach if given the chance to vote for speaker.
“I’ll see who’s running against her,” Randy Brice, an ironworker who is running for retiring GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin seat, had said previously.
There is also considerable pressure on Pelosi and her leadership team to deliver in 2018, where the anti-Trump fervor and Democratic excitement look like the perfect combination for Democrats to carry the House on Election Day.
If they fail, though, almost all Democrats – including those in leadership – have said they should be ousted from their roles.
“If we’re still in the minority, all of us have got to go,” House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn told Politico last month.
A Pelosi adviser put it this way: “We don’t plan on losing.”
One reason the Democratic defection from Pelosi appears to have caught on is that special elections across the country over the last year have proved she will loom as a cudgel to attack Democrats – even if the attacks can be neutralized.
The clearest case came in Democrats’ unlikely win in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, where Conor Lamb won a special election in suburban Pittsburgh, in part, by running against Pelosi.
“My take is, if these people have been around for several years and they haven’t solved these problems that have been hanging around, it’s time for someone new to step up and get it done,” he told his local paper before the race.
Lamb’s departure from Pelosi and eventual win signaled to candidates that it was possible to accept help from Pelosi-backed groups and distance yourself from the minority leader.
Republicans sought to cast Lamb as a “Pelosi Liberal” – even running an ad about immigration that put the two Democrats side by side – but the former federal prosecutor still won.
Hiral Tipirneni, the Arizona Democrat who ran and lost in last month’s special election outside Phoenix, declined to take a position on whether Pelosi should go, but Danny O’Connor, the front-runner in this month’s special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, told CNN he would not support Pelosi if he were to be in the House.
“We need a change in leadership on both sides of the aisle,” he said bluntly. When asked if that means he wouldn’t support Pelosi for speaker, he simply added, “Correct.”