Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wants to reclaim the House of Representatives and return to the speakership she held for the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency and the first two years of Barack Obama’s.
However, for San Franciscan Pelosi and the Democrats to recapture the House, they would have to not only hold all of their seats next year but also win 24 of those now held by the majority Republicans. And so far, it’s not happening.
Despite spending tens of millions of dollars, Pelosi and the Democrats failed this week to capture a seat in suburban Atlanta they thought they could win – the latest in a string of losses in special elections to fill Republican-held seats.
Nevertheless, Pelosi believes President Donald Trump’s unpopularity, the history of mid-term elections and Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, whose passage was the highlight of her brief speakership, present an opportunity to recoup. And if it happens, California will play a major role.
Trump is particularly unpopular in California, and Obamacare, a new poll shows, is quite popular here. Moreover, in seven of the state’s 14 Republican-held congressional districts, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton while the GOP representatives from those districts all voted to repeal Obamacare.
“Let’s hold the Republicans accountable in those districts (and) take our country back,” U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris demanded of Democratic activists at a May state party convention in Sacramento.
Under the circumstances, that sounds feasible, and Democrats have been staging protest rallies in those seven districts, often packing “town halls” to denounce Obamacare repeal efforts.
“If there’s a path to the Democratic Party regaining control of the House, it starts in California,” the newly elected state Democratic chairman, Eric Bauman, told the New York Times.
However, Bauman – or, more accurately, the party establishment he represents – could be an impediment to winning even a few of those seemingly winnable seats. He was elected by a paper-thin margin, defeating a very liberal upstart, Kimberly Ellis, who suggests that the election was flawed and may mount a court challenge.
In other words, the state Democratic Party is severely divided, as Ellis underscored after the party failed to win the seat in Georgia this week, taking to Twitter to declare, “#dem establishment hacks worst in biz. Time for a new coalition.”
Even if the party were unified, overturning a significant number of House seats in California – even two or three – could be an uphill struggle, analysts at the California Target Book, the bible of the state’s political games, conclude.
Target Book publisher Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist, and research director Rob Pyers warned in a recent op-ed piece that the seemingly vulnerable Republican incumbents Democrats hope to oust are still pretty popular locally. Several won re-election previously despite having more Democratic voters than Republicans in their districts.
If Democrats “are going to flip 24 seats nationwide and win back the House in 2018, they must take several seats in California,” Sragow and Pyers wrote, adding that Democrats’ best hope may be “a tsunami that overwhelms incumbents.”
It might be Pelosi’s fight for her political life. She’s already under fire for losing the House in 2010 and for failing to make gains in this year’s special elections. If Democrats fall short next year, she may join the growing list of California’s older Democratic leaders put out to pasture.
Dan Walters is a former columnist for The Sacramento Bee now writing for CALmatters, a public-interest journalism venture. Go to calmatters.org/commentary.