Pelosi Combats Anxiety With Vigor
House Democrats’ anxiety about the upcoming midterms is palpable, but Members in competitive races are following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lead and attempting to put a brave face on the situation.
Vulnerable Democratic incumbents are talking tough about their elections, in many cases acknowledging that the national mood is working against them but insisting that they aren’t panicking, that they’ll pull through and that conditions in their districts are less hostile to Democrats than the national polls might suggest.
Pelosi, whom one Democratic lawmaker likened Wednesday to Al Pacino’s football coach character in the movie “Any Given Sunday,” set the tone for House Democrats returning to Washington after more than a month in their districts when the California Democrat declared that she was “not yielding one grain of sand” and would “absolutely” predict Democrats would retain control of the House.
At a closed-door Caucus meeting Tuesday night, Pelosi blasted the “endless spigot” of undisclosed campaign contributions that she said were flowing to Republican candidates, according to one Democrat in the room. Firing up her team in tough times is a signature Pelosi move, Democratic lawmakers said.
Democrats may be wearing game faces, but many acknowledge privately that the angst level ratcheted up in recent weeks as a GOP rout began to seem more plausible.
One Democratic lawmaker in a competitive race characterized the mood among vulnerable incumbents as one of uncertainty and concern, and he said he was worried that the Democratic brand could be his doom.
“The truth is that if it were just me against my opponent — and our ideas and our passion and our work ethic and our commitment — if that were the only thing at stake and the only thing being examined by my constituents, I wouldn’t be worried about this election at all. But it’s not,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “My party’s brand has been tainted, and I feel like it’s forcing me to swim upstream.”
Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, whose gubernatorial bid ended when he was defeated in the June 1 Democratic primary, said, “Democratic candidates are very worried” that efforts to localize races will not work.
“They’re worried that the Democratic brand is going to trump the individual variables in given races,” Davis said.
Freshman Rep. John Adler summed up his predicament this way:
“We’ve got 10 percent unemployment, so things suck,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “They like me, but things suck.”
Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) said that “incumbents are reflecting the angst of their electorate” and that Members are already agitating to get back to their districts and focus on their campaigns.
But Murphy, who is co-chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program to boost vulnerable incumbents, insisted that the Democratic mood turned more positive in the past week or so, largely because a series of race-by-race polls showed endangered Democrats leading their Republican opponents.
The DCCC has been pushing back against gloomy national forecasts by releasing roundups of polling showing the party in good standing in numerous competitive Democrat-held districts.
“We saw a really good round of polls at the end of August suggesting that Frontline members are in better positions than a lot of national prognosticators would have you think, and I think that shows the payoff of being back in your district,” Murphy said. President Barack Obama’s recent push to frame the choice between the two parties “has given a jolt of energy to Democrats,” Murphy said.
“Folks feel a lot better this week than they did two weeks ago because they feel like the president has finally gotten his electoral lungs,” Murphy said.
Endangered freshman Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper described the mood among her colleagues as one of mutual encouragement.
“Everybody’s just working their tails off,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said. “People are tired. … Everybody’s like, OK, we can see the light at the end here. We’ve got seven weeks to go. Keep on working. Don’t give up.'”
Although many vulnerable Democrats are not eager to talk about their electoral prospects, they insist that the landscape in their districts is far more favorable that it has been portrayed in Washington-based press accounts.
“Things are much more upbeat in our individual districts than what the generic national polls are showing,” freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) said.
Another freshman, Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), said the narrative in Washington “overstates what’s going on back home” and that the momentum in his race was “moving in the right direction.”
Driehaus bristled when asked whether the Democratic brand would be a weight on his election, asserting that voters would judge him on his record rather than his party affiliation. But he also declared: “I’m a Democrat. I don’t run away from that.”
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said she was encouraged by recent poll numbers showing an uptick in support, adding that she was greeted warmly in her district.
“People are worried about the economy certainly, but in terms of the reception I got, it was friendly and interested in what I had to say,” Titus said.
Democrats downplay polls showing a generic ballot edge for Republicans while largely putting their electoral hopes on their ability to individualize races. But some within their ranks are fretting openly that they may not succeed in those efforts and that Democratic candidates could be swept away by national forces.
Davis, who will not face Alabama voters again this cycle after his primary defeat, said he could see the worst-case scenario taking shape.
“If there’s a powerful national mood, you might as well have generic candidates running,” Davis said. “And that’s unfortunately the fear: That it could be a powerful enough mood that you might as well have generic candidates running in many districts.”
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.