August 15th, 2020


They've Grown Accustomed To Her Face: A Sad Song for Democrats Heading Into 2018

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published June 22, 2017

They've Grown Accustomed To Her Face: A Sad Song for Democrats Heading Into 2018

In 2017, voters aren't Henry Higgins and Nancy Pelosi isn't "My Fair Lady". Will Madame Leader's reputation and polarizing brand cost her party dearly next year?

I confess to at least two indulges these days: checking baseball box scores every morning, then seeing what's up with Nancy Pelosi.

All the latter requires is a pit stop at The Drudge Report. Yesterday, it was the House Minority Leader's lousy approval numbers in those congressional special elections the Democrats lost, plus a few her party wants to amass next year. Today, it's baffling comments she had during a Manhattan appearance over the weekend.

Maybe it's because I live only 35 miles south of her district, but at this point it's hard for me to get all that worked up over the latest drama surrounding Madame Leader. Nancy (With The Laughing Face)? More like: I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face.

But unfortunately for Democrats looking to make inroads beyond America's two ocean coasts, so too have wary voters.

Tuesday's Drudge "hot link"("Polling Shows Nancy Pelosi "Toxic" In Districts Democrats Hoping To Flip") had all sorts of troubling math for a party trying to regain majority control of the House in 2018.

The newly released data from the Congressional Leadership Fund showed Pelosi with a 59% disapproval rating in the Montana district Democrats failed to pick up in late May (the Democrat in that race was branded "Pelosi in a cowboy hat") and a 56% dislike this month's Georgia House special that likewise didn't pan out for the party out of power (the Democrat in that contest had his name affixed to a San Francisco cable car - i.e., Pelosi's hometown).

Pelosi's poor numbers cast a long shadow over 2018, if the same study is to believed. It shows her with a 60% disapproval in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District (Republicans flipped it in 2016; Democrats would love to get it back) and no approval rating above 34% in any of the four California House seats currently targeted by the Democratic Congressional Committee.

At the risk of saying I told you so, I suggested on these pages a month ago that the strongest message House Democrats could posit in next year's midterm election is the promise of no "Re-Speaker" Pelosi. These poll numbers bitterly prove my point.

So where do the Democrats go from here? The options aren't numerous. They could they try to replace Pelosi with a new leader, but she's not budging (sort of like watching Ruth Bader Ginsburg, isn't it?). Or they could try to shift the strategic gears from conspiracy mongering to more Main Street topics like the economics, education and public safety.

Meanwhile, there's the question of how the Democrats get to 218 seats in the House.

Control of the House of Representatives in 2019 boils down to which party fares better in 35 contests: 23 districts that split their vote between Hillary Clinton and a Republican congressional candidate and 12 districts that voted for Donald Trump and a House Democratic candidate.

The challenge for Democrats: math.

In those 23 Hillary/GOP districts, only three of the House races were decided by less than 4% (CA10, CA49 and TX23). Two others - VA10 and CA25 - were decided by 6.3% or less. Two more favorable GOP outcomes - CO6 and FL26 - weighed in at 9.8% or less.

That leaves 16 districts where Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote, but the Republican congressional candidate prevailed by double-digits. It speaks to the need for a wave to star forming a year from today.

Now, the districts that went Trump and House Democratic.

In 2016, four of those contests - MN1, MN8, NH1 and NV3 - were decided (at the congressional level) by 1.4% or less. Two were decided by 5% or less; two others, by 7.6% or less. Let's assume the latter four will stay Democratic, but the first four will need to be defended.

Can the House go Democratic? With a current balance of 241-193 (one vacancy), Democrats would need a gain of 25 seats to get to the magical 218. Historically, it's a doable number - the parties out of power gained 26, 54, 31 and 63 seats in the midterm elections of 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2010, respectively (only the latter election - in 2010 - was a Republican year).

But in none of those elections did the party of power have a House leader as visible and polarizing as Pelosi.

If there's a historic parallel, it might be the late Tip O'Neill. At the time the House Speaker, the physically distinctive O'Neill was the butt of this GOP attack ad in 1980 - "the Democrats are out of gas".

Nearly 40 years later, the guess here is Democrats will try something similar in the coming midterm vote: convincing Americans they've had enough party's control of Congress, it' time for change a change in Washington.

The only problem with that message: voters may not want to hop in for a ride if they think Nancy Pelosi is doing the driving.

Comment by clicking here.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.