House already won? Pelosi thinks so, and reaches for more

Pelosi said that she feels so confident Democrats will keep the House this election
Last Updated 26 October 2020, 14:01 IST

Speaker Nancy Pelosi once predicted she'd have the House majority won by November — of 2019.

Now, days before the November 3 election, she seems to have done it.

With control of the House hardly contested, Pelosi is expanding her reach to fortify Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and win extra House seats in case Congress is called on to resolve any Electoral College dispute with President Donald Trump.

Pelosi said that she feels so confident Democrats will keep the House this election, she's already preparing to win the next one in 2022.

“This year, I'm trying to win it two years in advance — by being so substantial in this election that as soon as we start into the next year, people will see our strength,” Pelosi told The Associated Press in an interview.

“We intend to hold the House and grow our numbers," she said about the election November 3, and "contribute to winning the Senate and the presidency.”

It's a stunning turnaround for the speaker, who just two years ago was being challenged for her job leading House Democrats.

Pelosi rose as the face of the party, the House impeached the president, and emboldened Democrats are on the march to pick up House seats deep into Trump country.

Democrats are working to reelect some 40 House freshmen elected in the 2018 midterm to win the majority, most of them from districts Trump won in 2016.

They're digging deeper for additional seats in historically out-of-reach Republican strongholds including Nebraska, Indiana and even Alaska and Montana, where winners could tip the balance in an Electoral College dispute.

To wrest control, Republicans need to gain some 20 seats, but even the House GOP leadership has downplayed their chances. Strategists say Trump is a drag at the top of the GOP ticket.

Even though Republicans recruited more female and minority candidates to compete with Democrats in suburban swing districts, the battle for the House is something of an afterthought in the marquee contests for control of the White House and the Senate.

“A rising tide lifts all boats, and right now it seems a Democratic tide is rising,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist and former top aide to House GOP leadership.

Steel said it has less to do with Pelosi's planning than the national political environment.

“I attribute the presumed success of her efforts to keep the majority more to Trump's failures than to her stated leadership,” he said.

Those close to Pelosi's political operation did not always join her prediction that Democrats would handily keep control.

Trump wasn't on the ballot when they picked up the majority two years ago, and freshmen are often the most vulnerable to defeat as they seek reelection, especially this class of lawmakers now having to run alongside the president in districts often off-limits to Democrats.

Pelosi pushed ahead with the risky House vote to impeach the president in late 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine only to see the Senate, controlled by Republicans, vote to acquit him of the charges in a highly charged political environment early this year.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Capitol abruptly shuttered.

Pelosi engineered a rules change to allow the House to vote by proxy and work online, but it left lawmakers largely away from Washington.

Now Pelosi is holding out for a robust COVID-19 aid package with the Trump administration, another risky move, seeking a USD 2 trillion-plus deal Republicans don't want to give.

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill, who is the chairwoman of the party's campaign arm in the House, said she counseled the new lawmakers not to get swept up in the national political debate but “run your race like you're running for mayor” — meeting with constituents and responding to issues close to home.

“When we set out to do this work in 2019 we had no idea what this cycle would hold,” said Lucina Guinn, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's executive director.

The goal, she said, was to make the incumbents “as strong as possible" while also recruiting new candidates “to set up a big battlefield.” Money helps.

Pelosi is on track to be a USD 1 billion fundraiser for her party — an eye-popping sum during nearly two decades in leadership.

(Published 26 October 2020, 14:01 IST)

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