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Pelosi Counts Votes With Cash

October 11, 2010

Nancy Pelosi isn't acting like a Speaker in peril.

The California Democrat hasn't been calling her colleagues to ask them to pledge their loyalty to her, nor has she been making any other direct appeals to bolster her support for another two-year term as the Democratic leader.

Instead, Pelosi is trusting that the power of her fundraising will keep her in charge.

"It would be kind of odd if she was using this precious time that we have before the election to try to shore up her support within the Caucus," said one Democratic leadership aide, who added that Pelosi's focus on keeping the majority is appropriate. "What she's doing is shoring up her position. ... If you are in the leadership ... you are not looking at your own political future at this stage."

Pelosi wants to ensure House Democrats have the money to finish strong on Nov. 2, and she is the Caucus' top rainmaker. In October, the Speaker is planning more than 25 fundraisers in eight states, with 21 incumbents and challengers.

According to Pelosi's office, so far this cycle, she has raised $52.3 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and candidates this cycle and held 212 political events -- excluding those held in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Sources estimate she is spending as many as 17 hours a day making calls and campaigning for Democrats.

"The Speaker has said that we are not going to yield one grain of sand, and her focus is to ensure that Democrats are in the majority, and we will," Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. "That is her focus."

Pelosi assumed the role of Speaker in early 2007 after the Democrats gained power in the 2006 elections. And until recently, support for her within the Caucus has been strong.

But there are signs that some moderate Members are losing confidence in her leadership. At least a handful of vulnerable Democrats have refused to commit to giving Pelosi another tour as Speaker, and some are running campaign ads touting their independence from her.

 On Thursday, Rep. Bobby Bright became the first incumbent to publicly say that he would vote against giving Pelosi the gavel in the 112th Congress. The Alabama Democrat, whose campaign has benefited from $10,000 that Pelosi gave him through her leadership political action committee, told a local TV station that he would neither vote for Pelosi nor Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Later in a statement, Bright said he "would like to vote for a conservative centrist who has a track record of bridging divides."

Although no one in the Caucus is talking about challenging Pelosi, and most Democrats believe Pelosi would give up the gavel before a race ensued, some caution that the Speaker should not take the support of her Caucus for granted.

"Challenges can come up out of anywhere," one former House Democratic leadership aide said. "Any good [member of] leadership should shore up [support], and not just before the election but for a period of time before."

Several Democrats suggested Pelosi's hold on her Caucus would be severely weakened, despite her fundraising prowess, if Democrats suffer heavy losses as expected.

"She never stops basically campaigning at a certain level for re-election to her post, but I think there's probably, after a couple of years, a certain sense of comfort in a position, especially when you grow margins in the way she has," another former House Democratic aide said. "It's important for her to reach out to folks, especially to those in the past who may have tried to distance themselves."

Although a few moderate Democratic lawmakers have privately suggested they would prefer Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over Pelosi, those close to the Maryland Democrat insist that he would never take her on again. Hoyer and Pelosi squared off in 2001 for Minority Whip; Pelosi won the position handily.

In that race, Pelosi and Hoyer worked Members for more than a year for support. And Hoyer had to go through the same exercise in 2006, when he faced a surprise challenge from then-Rep. John Murtha for Majority Leader. Hoyer locked in enough verbal commitments in the weeks and months before Election Day and ultimately trounced Murtha, even though the Pennsylvania Democrat had Pelosi's support.

A Hoyer aide said that his boss is not actively seeking commitments from Members to keep him in leadership heading into the elections, but that "Majority Leader Hoyer is focused on keeping the majority, and he is always talking to Members as part of that effort."

"Democrats will keep the House in November, Speaker Pelosi will be elected Speaker and Majority Leader Hoyer will continue to serve as Majority Leader," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said.

Several Democrats said it's not Pelosi's style to approach Members directly to ask for their votes. They argued that Pelosi thinks the best whip effort is getting Democrats elected.

"It doesn't matter what she does now in terms of the internal stuff," a Democratic strategist said. "It is all about winning or losing on Election Day, so that's where the focus is."

Majority Whip James Clyburn, a Pelosi ally, shot down the suggestion that Pelosi's support among moderate Democrats is slipping.

"Her strength in our Caucus is as strong as it's ever been, I would say stronger than it's ever been," the South Carolina Democrat said. "I do not think for one moment that she has any reason to be concerned about anything said in the throes of a political campaign."

Working to Pelosi's advantage is the likelihood that the Caucus will be decidedly more liberal next year, as moderates are expected to suffer the greatest losses on Election Day.

"My guess is that the folks who are going to be coming back and are more than likely to be re-elected are going to be Members who see eye to eye with her on both politics and policy," said one Democratic lobbyist with ties to liberal Members.

And some Democrats predict that if they stay in power, Pelosi will be rewarded.

"Winning is a great tonic for lots of ills," another Democratic lobbyist said.

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