House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is steering clear of several battleground districts, acutely aware that her liberal reputation and fundraising prowess make her more useful elsewhere.
Her deputy and one-time bitter rival, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a Blue Dog who neither rakes in the megabucks nor repels conservative voters, has thus become the Democrats’ go-to guy — in that he’s the one who goes to states such as South Dakota and Kentucky to stump for his party’s candidates.
By recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the Pelosi-Hoyer combination, House Democrats believe they have developed an effective one-two punch.
Pelosi devises strategy and raises unprecedented amounts of hard money from her party’s base, while Hoyer stumps in swing districts — to overcome the Republicans’ 22-seat lead in the House.
Despite her vigorous travel schedule, Pelosi has steered clear of setting foot into many of the swing districts that will determine who controls the House in November, leaving that task to the more centrist Hoyer.
Pelosi was not on the ground in either Ben Chandler’s (D-Ky.) special-election victory in February, the Democrats’ first since 1991, or South Dakota, where state Sen. Stephanie Herseth is expected to win today.
In her recent two-day, four-city, six-event Texas fundraising romp in the president’s back yard, she avoided visiting embattled Texas Democrats’ districts, though centrists such as Reps. Chet Edwards, Max Sandlin and Charles Stenholm clearly will benefit from her money efforts.
Mindful that her time is spent more effectively raising money in friendly territory, Pelosi’s strategy is to ensure that Democratic candidates have the resources to win, said spokeswoman Jennifer Crider.
“Leader Pelosi’s schedule is extremely strategic. She spends her time doing the things that are most effective to reach the goal of winning the House,” Crider said.
For candidate recruitment and on-the-ground support, Hoyer has been more willing to venture into battleground districts where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats.
In 2004, Hoyer has traveled to such centrist, contested real estate as Kentucky’s 3rd and 6th districts, South Dakota, Florida’s 2nd, New York’s 1st, Missouri’s 6th and Nebraska’s 1st and 2nd.
While Hoyer has been on the ground in these districts, Pelosi has occupied herself with raising roughly $26 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In addition, through her political action committee (PAC) she has raised roughly $700,000.
By contrast, Hoyer’s PAC has raised almost $1.3 million this cycle, and he has contributed more than $453,000 to challengers and House members with competitive elections. In addition, he has raised more than $537,000 in hard money
for individual campaigns.
“In the districts that each of them have visited, the Democrats are very pleased with the attention and care they are receiving,” said Democratic pollster Alan Secrest, adding that Pelosi and Hoyer complement each other better than previous leadership teams.
However, one Democratic leadership aide downplayed the importance of having party leaders parachute into middle-America districts, places where the voters often shun national figures of both parties.
The aide also suggested that the Beltway political distinction between Pelosi and Hoyer does not necessarily hold in many parts of the country.
“There will be many districts where Hoyer can’t go. There will be districts no national Democrats can go. [Former House Minority Leader Dick] Gephardt [D-Mo.] had the same problem,” the aide said.
“National Democrats take a risk in going to these districts, and I don’t care who they are.”
Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), who has hedged on whether he will endorse Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for president, said he represents a district where national Democrats have little following.
“I never have national figures come to my districts. That’s just not the way I do it,” Moore said.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a Blue Dog in a swing seat, told the Hill that he and many other conservative Democrats would not welcome a Pelosi visit to his district.
But some conservative Democrats do not regard Pelosi as a liability.
Crider cited Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) as one centrist Democrat who has sought Pelosi’s political support on his home turf.
Perhaps Pelosi herself is the most sensitive about giving her opponents easy fodder for politically motivated attacks.
For example, on several occasions she has warned conservative Democrats that she would be making remarks that may not play well in their districts. At times, those moderate members have walked away from the podium before Pelosi has served political charged and harshly worded criticisms of the president or the war in Iraq.
For example, in early May, Pelosi told Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, that she would be elaborating — in strident tones — on her earlier call for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, a
Democratic aide said.
Skelton left Pelosi’s side before she launched into her call for Rumsfeld’s resignation to avoid any association with a position he does not hold.
Bob Doyle, a Democratic political consultant with many centrist clients, explained that Pelosi and Hoyer were both playing to their strengths.
“When they were opposing each other, that’s why members had such a hard time choosing because they both bring such different strengths. Pelosi is big-picture. Steny is more tactical.”
“She is being very tactical about where she is deploying, but more of the burden falls on the candidate to define himself, on his own terms,” Doyle added.
He cited first-term Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), a Blue Dog who won in a predominantly Republican district, as an example of how to avoid being “morphed into a Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi.”