“I would have to think Reid — while it’s a long time off and a lot of things can happen — he has to be concerned,” Ornstein said.
A House Democratic leadership aide noted that the days where leaders were largely left alone by the opposing party are gone, citing the example that in Pelosi’s case, the Republicans spend a great deal of time “going after her, trying to distract her and take her numbers down.”
“For Pelosi, it’s not so much about going after her electorally,” the staffer said. “It’s about trying to take her numbers down, make her less effective and make her the symbol of any problems on the Democratic side.”
Indeed, Pelosi is in little danger of losing her bid for a 12th term representing San Francisco after having won with 81 percent of the vote in 2006. But the first female Speaker faces new challenges, balancing an extremely diverse Democratic Caucus while representing a liberal district where she is confronted by a leftist challenge in 2008 from anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
And a recent Field Poll in California showed Pelosi has lost ground in her home state — showing that 40 percent of those surveyed disapproved of her performance, compared with 35 percent who are happy with the job she is doing. Not to be discounted, however, is the fact that the poll showed Democrats continue to fare better than Republicans in that state.
“When you are in a leadership position like Pelosi is, people are constantly shooting arrows at you,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “That’s the price of leadership. And on our side, to get things done you have to make certain compromises ... you have to make tough choices and sometimes those choices aren’t popular with all parts of your party.”
Vulnerables Need Not Apply?
In the House, both Pelosi and Boehner are far more secure in their districts than are their Senate counterparts, and most agree that neither is at any risk of losing their seats anytime soon. At the same time, however, Pelosi and Boehner face larger issues with their national popularity — especially as they look to fundraise nationally and campaign for candidates or challengers in key swing districts across the country.
Case in point, recent surveys conducted for Roll Call by SurveyUSA indicated that among those voters who recognized them, neither Pelosi nor Boehner are viewed positively in any of the seven battleground states tested, with their unfavorable rankings as high as nearly twice the level as their favorable marks. Similarly negative numbers were posted for Reid and McConnell across the board.
While the challenges may be greater for certain leaders, lawmakers and observers on all sides agree that it is tougher to take on the top job in the House or Senate these days. And some asked whether it might one day become impossible for Members who don’t hail from the safest districts to even take on those positions.
“There’s no question that not only will there be more reluctance for people — no matter how ambitious — from swing states to think about going for the brass ring, but I think [also] from the parties when they are looking at who they want to elect as leaders,” Ornstein said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.