Pelosi says she’s not hurting Democrat campaigns: ‘We won'

Pelosi says she’s not hurting Democrat campaigns: ‘We won'
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObjections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated Latest pro-democracy rally draws tens of thousands in Hong Kong Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday rejected the notion that her controversial image is complicating her party’s effort to win back the lower chamber this year, pointing to the Democrats’ apparent victory this week in a deep-red Pennsylvania district as proof that attacks against her will have limited effect.

“He won. If we hadn’t won, you might have a question. But we won,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol, referring to Conor Lamb’s likely victory.

“Whoever the leader is will be the target. Tip O’Neill was the target. … Tom Foley was the target. That’s the way it is,” she added. “But, no, I feel pretty confident that we’re going to win, we’re going to win big, we’re going to win a lot of seats.”

Pelosi, a liberal San Francisco Democrat, has for years been a radioactive figure in certain conservative districts, and Republicans have launched countless campaign ads linking Democratic candidates to her left-leaning policy preferences.

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This month’s special election contest in Pennsylvania’s 18th District — a conservative stronghold that favored President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE by almost 20 points in 2016 — was no exception, as the Republicans and outside conservative groups ran numerous ads connecting Lamb to Pelosi in hopes of eroding support for the Democratic hopeful.

Hoping to defuse the Pelosi issue, Lamb ran an ad of his own disavowing his support for the controversial Democratic leader and promising to stay true to the sentiments of district voters — a tactic that’s been used by other purple-district Democrats in the past and with Pelosi’s blessing.

“My opponent wants you to believe that the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi,” Lamb says in the ad. “It’s all a big lie.”

It’s unclear how large a role the Pelosi factor played in the outcome of the race, in which Lamb appears the likely victor. But Republicans clearly continue to see her as a winning issue. The Republicans’ campaign arm wasted no time responding to Pelosi’s comments Thursday, blasting out an email containing a link to Lamb’s ad distancing himself from the House leader.

Some Democrats view Pelosi as a campaign liability who’s undermining the party’s chances of winning control of the House in November’s midterm elections. Those voices have lamented that Democratic candidates — especially those in blue-collar swing districts — may be forced to use valuable campaign resources to distance themselves from their own party’s leader.

“Clearly it was a factor in the [Lamb] race, and … other candidates will have to determine whether or not that’s going to be their approach,” Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Ohio), who challenged Pelosi’s leadership after the Democrats’ election drubbing in 2016, said Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, our candidates need to determine what their positions are on the major issues, — including the issue of leadership — and that needs to be done with the candidate leading the charge,” Ryan added. “That’s the takeaway from Conor: He was not gonna be influenced by anybody from the outside. And that plays well.”

But other Democrats have rushed to their leader’s defense, arguing that the Republicans can target Pelosi this year only at their own peril.

“They made her a poster child and it’s going to blow up back in their face,” said Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellBottom Line Democrats denounce Trump's attack on Cummings: 'These are not the words of a patriot' Two Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment MORE (D-N.J.).

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, suggested the Republicans are targeting Pelosi, not because of her politics, but because of her gender.

“They need to get a new game book. The attempts to use Nancy Pelosi, it's failing them at this point. And I think, quite frankly, it's sexist,” Crowley said. “So they need to move on from that.”

Pelosi, for her part, acknowledged that the Republicans likely won’t abandon the tactic of using her image in attacks on other swing-district Democrats. But she downplayed the power of that strategy to decide races.

“That will happen all over the country — demonizing me as the leader of the Democratic Party. … I don’t think that that really had that much impact on the race,” she said.

“This is part of the bankruptcy of the Republican Party,” she added. “They’re devoid of ideas about how they’re going to meet the needs of the American people, so it’s an ad hominem [attack]. They can’t win on the issues, so they go after a person. I feel pretty confident about my ability.”