Pelosi delivers postmortem to her troops

Greg Nash

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday provided a straightforward postmortem on the sweeping defeat her party suffered at the polls two days before: Democrats didn't win, she said, because Democrats didn't vote.

In a 75-minute call with the members of her caucus, the minority leader acknowledged the Democrats' "terrible year" but argued that low voter participation — not the party's message — was the root of the problem.

She's vowing an all-out push to get more voters of all political persuasions to the polls in the future, and called this effort part of Congress's "moral responsibility."

"Next year has to be the year to expand the universe of people who vote. I'm concerned that eligible voters did not vote in the election this year," Pelosi told her troops, according to a source on the call. 

"We have the magic and the resources to have massive voter registration over the country — not just places that might benefit the Democrats," she added. "I don't care if they vote for a Republican, just so [long as] they vote, get in the game, are counted, and people will pay attention to what their concerns are."

House Democrats had known for most of the year that they had little chance of denting the Republicans' majority in an election cycle where they faced a formidable array of challenges, from President Obama’s low popularity to a news agenda dominated in recent months by gloomy topics including an Ebola outbreak and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Still, they had hoped to keep their losses in the single digits. That didn't happen.

Instead, the Republican wave swept at least 13 Democratic House members out of office, with several more races still too close to call as of Thursday evening. When the smoke clears, the Republicans could have their largest House majority since 1929.

Much of the Republicans' success came because they were able to make individual House races a referendum on Obama. That fact won’t be quickly forgotten by many Democrats, who are blaming the president for what they say was a failure to defend his agenda.

"We lost all over because people weren't motivated to come out to vote," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said during Thursday's call, according to the source. "And the whole campaign — not just the campaign, but the whole zeitgeist for years — has been the president who has the bully pulpit refusing to attack the Republicans, refusing to differentiate, refusing to defend his own policies."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) delivered a similar lamentation. 

"This election ... was nationalized by the Republicans," she said on the call, the source said. "It focused around President Obama."  

"We had base voters who were disappointed in the president and who did not come out. ... But what happened in the House was not a result of a House strategy."

Pelosi, for her part, is dismissing the notion that Tuesday's losses, combined with the current district map, put control of the House out of reach for the Democrats at least until the lines are redrawn in 2020.

She noted that the next Congress to be affected by the new map won't arrive in Washington until 2023 — and worries how much damage, as she sees it, the Republicans will do by then.

"I don't know any children that can wait that long for us to do the job for them, any families that can withstand, not only this past few years, but eight years projected," she said. "We can make the change in the voting environment in the year 2015. It's our responsibility.   

"I know where the money is," she added. "I know where to get it."