Nancy Pelosi and Steve Israel face an unusual pressure for party leaders: Not only do they hail from states where Democrats could pick up the most House seats, but those states are also fundraising hubs for the party.
If Democrats are to take back the majority in the lower chamber, they’ll need to net 25 seats — a prospect that hinges on a handful of fiercely competitive races in Illinois, California and New York. And because those last two states are home to the minority leader and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, they take on an added significance.
Though the home-state aspect of the battles adds a level of pressure to Pelosi and Israel’s efforts, it’s also, to some extent, an advantage: Pelosi and Israel are steeped in local political and fundraising circles there and can help Democrats better navigate the strategic terrain in states they know so well.
Pelosi, one of the most prolific fundraisers the Democratic Party has ever seen, raised $7.2 million in September alone. Earlier this year, she hit the $300 million mark — having raised that amount for the party since she first entered leadership a decade ago.
But while the two leaders might have a leg up on fundraising and strategy in their home states, they also face added pressure to perform in their own backyards.
“Other members look at you in saying, ‘This is your state; we're expecting you to perform.’ If you can’t do well in your home state, there's always that embarrassment factor,” said former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis, who helped his party net three seats in his home state of Virginia during his tenure.
He also remembers having an easier time fundraising in his own state.
“You're a little bit of a celebrity, holding that position, in your home state,” he said.
The pressure to do well at home extends across the aisle.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave $105,000 to home-state House Republican candidates, compared to just $85,000 for New York GOP House candidates and $100,000 for California candidates. Most of Ohio’s races are considerably less contentious, but it’s important for party leaders to take care of their own delegation first.
Democrats are optimistic about nine races in California, litigating four Republican-held seats and hoping to defend two of their incumbents while pursuing three open seats.
In August, Pelosi attended fundraising events with nearly all of them, supporting Ami Bera and Rep. Jerry McNerney at their own events, and appearing at a joint event to benefit Scott Peters, Raul Ruiz, Mark Takano, Julia Brownley, Alan Lowenthal and Rep. Lois Capps.
Pelosi has completed fundraising and/or campaign events with every single House candidate in the California delegation — including but not limited to those races in which the DCCC has engaged — and she’s poured at least $100,000 from her leadership PAC into California Democratic House candidates this cycle.
And even though she raises funds for candidates across the nation, with 65 fundraising events nationwide scheduled from Oct. 1 through the election, her efforts might go farthest at home.
The minority leader’s familiarity with California politics dates back to the 1970s, when she became engaged with the local Democratic Party and worked her way up, ultimately becoming chairwoman of the California Democratic Party in the 1980s.
A Pelosi aide said that the congresswoman has always been involved in the recruitment and support of House candidates, even before she entered into leadership, but admitted it’s to her advantage to have so many competitive seats in her home state.
“You know the lay of the land and you also know people in every community. If you've been involved in state politics for over 30 years, yes, you're going to have a bit of an advantage,” the aide said.
Israel, too, will likely use his familiarity with New York politics to his party’s advantage. The Democratic calculus for taking back a House majority requires the party to net three or four seats in the Empire State — litigating four seats where vulnerable Republican incumbents have left open the door for pickups, and defending four.
Republicans are targeting Democratic Reps. Louise Slaughter, Tim Bishop, Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens. And Democrats believe they can pick up seats held by GOP Reps. Nan Hayworth, Chris Gibson, Ann Marie Buerkle and possibly Michael Grimm.
To aid those efforts, Israel has focused on raising money for his leadership political action committee, the New York Jobs PAC, contributing at least $41,500 from New York Jobs PAC to those eight candidates this cycle, and the PAC formed specifically to back the eight Democratic House candidates supported by the DCCC, the Committee for Battleground NY.
He and Pelosi have attended at least two fundraisers in the month of October to benefit Battleground NY, which doled out $10,000 to each of the eight candidates this past month, as well as $20,000 to the DCCC.
One Democratic operative familiar with his efforts in the state admitted that Israel’s background in New York is a boon, but added that New York — because of the number of seats in play — would have taken on added significance anyway.
“He knows New York the best, so that's a huge advantage there, but being successful in New York is, we've said since the start of the election, necessary to our success overall,” the operative said.
Most dispassionate observers don’t expect Democrats to net enough seats to regain a Democratic majority in the House at this point. But Pelosi and Israel’s work in California and New York extends beyond the fluctuating playing field and past Election Day to their future political prospects at home.
“These are your neighbors when you leave your post,” Davis pointed out. “You’ll run into these people again.”