CHARLOTTE, N.C. – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sat in the middle of a banquet table flanked by her disciples Monday morning, but California’s Democratic Convention kickoff could not have been less like a “Last Supper” scene.
By all indications, the event was more of a first breakfast of the rest of Pelosi’s career. Far from the Pelosi farewell tour some projected for this week, the California Democrat, 72, is eager to showcase a vigorous, energized side in Charlotte.
When asked Tuesday how her role this year is different from 2008, she said, “Well, I was the chair at the last convention.
“It was a woman’s turn, and now it’s a man’s turn,” she joked. “And this time, I have more time, since I don’t have to sit on a stage the whole time.”
And she has been making use of those extra hours.
Pelosi can be seen traversing downtown Charlotte with the energy of someone a few decades younger, whether she’s dropping in on the Huffington Post’s Oasis to try out their gadgets and talk with bloggers Monday, speaking at three separate luncheons Tuesday afternoon or leading a presentation of House Democratic women on the DNC stage Tuesday night.
Adding to the tireless image she is projecting, her staff announced Monday that she had held more than 60 fundraisers during the past few weeks, hauling in $6.8 million in August and bringing her total pull for the cycle to $65 million.
While speculation always abounds about when Pelosi will retire, that talk is off-limits this week.
Though Pelosi will be 76 by the time Democrats meet to nominate their 2016 presidential candidate, her inner circle refuses to even entertain the notion that she would not be there.
“For years and years and years, we’ve been making the case for our values, and she’s going to continue to do that whether she’s in the majority or the minority … at the plateau or fighting back,” her daughter, Christine Pelosi, said. “If you’ve been through a lot of cycles, you know: You win, you lose, you come back. But I guarantee you, it’s not her last convention.”
Still, the fact that Pelosi’s role in the party and at the convention has changed is undeniable. Though she will address the convention tonight, she has a less prominent role this year, reflecting the reality that she holds less power.
Four years ago, as chairwoman of the 2008 convention, the then-newly minted first female Speaker in history wielded the gavel and pounded it on the podium in Denver while addressing the crowd.
With then-candidate Barack Obama not yet elected president, health care reform not yet signed into law, Pelosi had not yet reached the pinnacle of her career.
Now, she governs over the minority in the House, and prospects for her winning back the Speakership this year are theoretically possible, but unlikely.
“The most thrilling of all was to be the chair of the convention last time, to gavel the nomination of Barack Obama to be president of the United States. That was pretty thrilling,” she said Wednesday. “This is thrilling in another way.”
But her message to supporters this week focuses on the possible.
“The opportunity is there,” she said at a National Journal/The Atlantic luncheon Tuesday. “It’s on the ground, mano-a-mano. We’re not yielding 100 percent because we think so much is at stake.”
While she looks forward, her boosters are also taking the time to look back. At the Monday breakfast, supporters held signs reading, “Celebrating Nancy Pelosi: 25 Years of Leadership.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said she is “the best leader in the history of the United States Congress,” while Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) called her “the greatest Speaker in the history of the United States” – and both vowed to work tirelessly to return her to that standing.
Asked if they think she is on the way out, Members give a resounding, “No.”
“Nancy gets to do what Nancy wants because she’s earned it, and she’s going to work hard for it,” Becerra said after the event. “Leader Pelosi knows that lots of us would like her to be Speaker Pelosi.”
And after all, Lewis said later, House Democrats need her.
“It’s not about age, years of service. She’s the most effective leader I’ve seen on our side of the House for a long time. And she’s the best fundraiser, and we need money to win elections,” he said.
When asked Wednesday, Pelosi singled out Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.), DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Becerra, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as future leaders of the party. But few think they are ready to take the reins just yet, and that sentiment is almost certainly shared by Pelosi – for now.