Vulnerables Keep Space From Pelosi on Stump

Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:10pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t likely to get many invitations from vulnerable House Democrats to visit their districts between now and Nov. 2.

Nearly a dozen Members in tough re-election fights who were interviewed this week said they are better off keeping their distance from the California Democrat, while a handful of other incumbents declined to discuss whether they thought Pelosi would be an asset to them on the campaign trail.

Freshman Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), who in August suggested that Pelosi might get sick and die, said his campaign was ‘going really strong right now’ and that a visit from the Speaker would not be helpful.

‘I hate to say this, but of course the Speaker ‘ even though she works hard and has a long tenure up here ‘ my district would not be one of the most prioritized districts for her to attend,’ Bright said. ‘I’m a self-survivor, and I have carried water for my constituents very well over the last two years. So I don’t feel at this point in time I need anybody coming into my district.’

Freshman Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio)said that while Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) had both been to his district this cycle, he did not expect a visit from the Speaker. He noted that his Republican opponent, businessman Jim Renacci, was attacking him by trying to tie him to Pelosi.

Republicans have long targeted Pelosi as the face of a liberal Democratic Party; this cycle, they have tried to link many vulnerable Members to Pelosi and President Barack Obama, whom they accuse of pushing flawed policies and say represent a ‘broken’ system in Washington.

‘My opponent wants to make this election about a Congresswoman from California,’ Boccieri said, noting that Renacci said Pelosi’s name 14 times during a recent debate. ‘He can’t say ‘Nancy Pelosi’ enough, and he has no ideas, other than the national talking points he was given.’

First-term Rep. Steve Driehaus also said Pelosi probably wouldn’t be stumping for him in the coming weeks.

‘It’s not likely, but the whole leadership team has been through Cincinnati over the last few months,’ the Ohio Democrat said.

Asked whether she would like Pelosi to come to her district prior to the midterms, freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas would say only, ‘I pretty much have a full schedule already arranged.’ Pelosi did host a fundraiser for the Florida Democrat in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Another freshman in a tough race,Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, also demurred when asked whether she would welcome a visit from the Speaker.

‘We’ve actually knocked on more doors than any other district in the Northeast … and that’s really what my campaign is focused on is that,’ the Pennsylvania Democrat said.

Even Democrats in less competitive races don’t appear to be jumping at the chance to bring Pelosi or other House leaders to their districts.

‘I never had surrogates out before, and I won this thing on my own,’ said Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a sophomore who is a GOP target this cycle. ‘I’m not sure they ever help, whether they’re popular or not. … I want to talk for myself. I don’t want anybody to speak for me.’

Another sophomore said he was not surprised that vulnerable Democrats were not pressing Pelosi to make appearances in their districts right now.

‘Why would they? She’s unpopular,’ the lawmaker said. ‘She’s raising money, but I don’t see her out on the stump.’

A Democratic leadership aide concurred.

‘I don’t think this is something that is going to upset her in the least,’ the aide said. ‘Her No. 1 priority is making sure these Democrats come back. … I strongly doubt that she would hold a grudge against them.’

Pelosi’s goal is to retain a majority and, in so doing, the Speaker’s gavel.

And Pelosi seems OK to serve as an election-year foil. When asked at a press conference last month whether she was concerned about GOP attempts to paint her as its ‘boogeyman,’ she responded: ‘To tell you the honest truth, I don’t really even have the time to pay attention to what they are saying about me. We like the contest. So up the ante if you wish. We’re going to be victorious come November.’

Rep. Phil Hare also said he doesn’t anticipate a Pelosi visit but is hoping that Hoyer ‘ an ally of the moderates ‘ puts in an appearance. The Illinois Democrat, who helped whip votes for Hoyer’s Majority Leader bid in 2007, said he is in talks with the Hoyer and Clyburn about stumping for him. Hoyer has been traveling the country making appearances on behalf of many vulnerable Democrats and challengers in conservative-leaning states. Hoyer estimated this week that he had visited more than 40 districts this cycle, including about 20 over the August recess.

‘I think that helps me out a lot,’ Hare said of potential Hoyer visit.

At the same time, Hare said he still supports Pelosi. ‘I know they try to demonize her,’ Hare said. ‘The Speaker is a very progressive Member of the House, but she’s been able to sit with [more moderate Members]. It isn’t my way or the highway with her.’

Pelosi’s strength has always been as a fundraiser: She raised $28.9 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as of Aug. 24, far outpacing her colleagues, according to a recent party committee dues sheet.

And her office contends that not all incumbents and challengers are eschewing her help this cycle. For instance, Pelosi recently headlined a campaign brunch in Miami for Joe Garcia, who is trying to pick up the GOP-leaning 25th district in Florida, and will attend an Oct. 11 fundraiser with President Barack Obama for Democratic Rep. Ron Klein, who is fighting for a third term in Florida’s 22nd district.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the Speaker would have a ‘very aggressive schedule’ in the runup to Nov. 2. He said she will head to eight states with campaign events and fundraisers planned.

Freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) noted that Pelosi campaigned for him in his suburban Washington district prior to the 2008 elections ‘ when Democrats won the White House and increased their advantage in Congress ‘ and said the Speaker gave him a boost.

‘It motivated part of my base,’ Connolly said.