n Tuesday, the most expensive Congressional election in history – in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, culminated with the election of Republican Karen Handel to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Handel defeated Jon Ossoff, a 28 year old who, campaigning with the slogan, “Vote your Oss-off,” galvanized Democrats around the country who were hoping to make discontent with President Trump translate into the first Congressional flip since the November election. More importantly, they had hoped it would portend big gains for the 2018 election cycle.Unlike other special elections that have been held this year in Kansas and Montana, Democrats saw Georgia as a prime opportunity to snag a seat because Trump edged out Hillary Clinton by a mere 1.5%. Mitt Romney, conversely, had taken 61% four years earlier, In a race where spending topped $50 million, Handel defeated Ossoff 52-48%. One prime reason: Nancy Pelosi.
Filemon Vela, a Congressman from Texas,hit the nail on the head when he said that “Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons,” before adding that, “you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top.”
To be clear, there were a few reasons Ossoff came up short. One was that Republicans successfully targeted voters who did not cast ballots in round one, the April all-party primary that Ossoff could have won on the spot if he took 50% (he got 48.1%). The end result was that by the time early voting concluded last Friday, 36,000 additional people had voted. The second was last week’s carnage on the Alexandria, Virginia baseball field that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise fighting for his life. Republicans used that as a rallying point and, while there is no way to ascertain how much Republicans benefitted, anecdotal reports indicate it did have impact. Third, Ossoff stuck to his vow to run a positive campaign and as laudable as that was, Republicans were not about to roll over and play dead. By unilaterally disarming, Ossoff now joins the Michael Dukakis school of taking the high road – and having little to show for it. In that vein, he also made limited reference to Trump. Handel’s 10,000 vote margin suggests that none of this made the ultimate difference. What is indisputable, however, is that Pelosi did. How? Because Republicans said so themselves.
Knowing that Trump and an unpopular healthcare bill had put them deep on the defensive, Republicans knew they had to make Pelosi the target. Under the leadership of the Congressional Leadership Fund, Republicans sent actors to San Francisco and depicted Ossoff’s literature on San Francisco landmarks, such as the famous trolleys. Handel declared the election an opportunity to “rock Nancy Pelosi’s world.” She outright told him during a debate that while he “may live five minutes outside the district, you’re values are 3,000 miles away in San Francisco.” It worked. After the election, one Democrat declared “our brand to be worse than Trump’s.” When it comes to Pelosi among centrist Independents and Republicans, that is certainly the case, a fact echoed by the CLG’s Director who acknowledged that “if Pelosi ever retired we’d be in a lot of trouble.” And that’s it in a nutshell. In fact, that line ought to make Democrats question why we need our own strategists if they have Democrats making the arguments for them.
While there once were ways for Democrats to win the House without Republican leaning districts, that is no longer the case. Gerrymandering in particular has structured the districts in such a way that there are very few that aren’t designed for either one party or the other. And Pelosi is a big liability in those races. These include seats in Michigan, upstate New York, and perhaps Texas, Nebraska and Utah.
Many were stupefied that Pelosi decided to stay on as Democratic leader after the 2010 tidal wave that washed Democrats from their comfortable House majority. Nearly every House Democrat that lost that year – 52, hailed from districts that were moderate. But there are signs that the caucus is growing restless. In last November’s leadership elections, 64 House members opted to replace her.
Now Pelosi of late has become, if not detached from reality – then somewhat arrogant. She has resisted in the past admitting that she is the problem at this point. She has argued that her fate is determined by her fellow House members and that, so far at least, they have voted to keep her by resounding margins. That’s why it needs to fall on her close friends- people like Nita Lowey, Rosa DeLauro and Jan Schakowsky need to talk to her because that’s what friends do (well, maybe not Schakowsky: she’s detached from reality also because she holds a grudge against Steny Hoyer for being a moderate 30 years ago when he had a competitive district- but guess what Jan, Hoyer wouldn’t be replacing Pelosi anyway). It would literally be too late for Pelosi to announce her departure the day after the election. She is the boogeyman in a number of swing districts in which her presence might only cost Democrats a handful of seats, but for Democrats, those seats could easily stand between the majority and the minority. She should step down as Leear in the next couple of months, perhaps by the end of the 2017 legislative year.
Now some say that whomever the Democrats tap as their House leader will have Pelosi problems – that he/she won’t play in parts of the country similar to Georgia’s Sixth District and that may in time prove to be the case. But few other members – whether it be Joe Crowley, John Larson, Adam Schiff, whomever, are as defined as the current leader and for voters in middle-America, that makes all the difference in the world.
Nancy Pelosi’s effectiveness in her time as Speaker is unquestionable. By resisting any moves to leave, Pelosi is being short-sighted, stubborn and frankly selfish of anyone’s ambitions but her own.
Incientally, a second Congressional election was held in South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District that Mick Mulvaney had vacated to become Trump’s Director of Management and Budget. Republican Ralph Norman had been heavily favored to defeat Archie Parnell but, in a low turnout election, he held him off by a bare 51-48% margin. Some may be tempted to point fingers at national Democrats who gave Parnell little assistance but, had they done so, Republicans would have mobilized their base as they did in Georgia. In other words, they would have pulled the Pelosi card.That said, the only way for Parnell to have won would be have performed an upset hence the very definition of the term.
In closing, to paraphrase a prominent Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee who had defended President Nixon until it became impossible to do so, I have concluded that the magnificent career of Nancy Pelosi, at least at the leadership level, should be terminated involuntarily.