In the United Kingdom, parliamentary elections in each constituency (district) are generally decided more by voters’ overall party choice than by the individual candidate standing (running) for election as member of parliament in that district. There are certainly exceptions, but as a general rule people are voting in UK general elections for which party leader they would like to become the next prime minister. In the United States, except during wave elections (which are generally referenda on the president or presidential nominees of each party than anything else), people tend far more to vote for the specific person running in a district. Local politics are more important than the congressional leaders.
Therefore it has been interesting to me to see how much the leaders in Congress, particularly in the House have been discussed during races, whether in ads, speeches, debates, or articles. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner it seems are on everyone’s lips. Now partly that is just how it seems, because I’m a political junky more than the average voter by far, but still there’s an unusual fixation on Pelosi, especially, from the electorate mostly on the right.
Here are excerpts from an article from the New York Times today looking at her campaign efforts recently to defend her Democratic majority:
In recent months, the 70-year-old speaker’s days have been packed with private fund-raising events across the country for many of the Democrats who have been publicly avoiding her like bedbugs. (Since the beginning of 2009, she has raised $52.3 million for Democratic incumbents, candidates and the party’s Congressional campaign committee, second only to President Obama among Democrats.)
It is hard to find anyone who claims to have heard Ms. Pelosi entertain doubts about winning. “She believes deep in her soul that the Democrats will keep the majority,” said Larry Horowitz, a friend and adviser.
Whether that is denial, superstition, insight or spin is a subject of some debate. Ms. Pelosi is fully aware that the bad economy, the electoral map and historical trends favor Republicans, said Roz Wyman, a longtime Democratic activist in Los Angeles.
“She knows the situation and exactly what she is up against,” said Ms. Wyman, a frequent late-night phone buddy. “We pretty much talk about everything, especially our grandchildren. But we never talk about losing.”
By all accounts, Ms. Pelosi has been engaged in district-by-district assessments of races, a type of political card-counting she learned as the daughter of a Baltimore mayor and congressman. She knows which of her members are in trouble, which need her help — and which ones absolutely do not want it. She can spout real-time reports on Republican chances of netting the 39 seats required for a majority.
While her Congressional seat appears safe, it often seems now as if Ms. Pelosi’s name is on the ballot in every Congressional district in the country.
“My opponent wants to make this election about a congresswoman from California,” Representative John Boccieri, Democrat of Ohio, told Roll Call, noting that his Republican rival, Jim Renacci, mentioned Ms. Pelosi’s name 14 times in a recent debate.
And a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that Ms. Pelosi and Sarah Palin are two of the country’s most polarizing political figures. Fifty-one percent of respondents said it was unacceptable for Ms. Pelosi to continue as speaker, a figure exceeding the percentage who say it would be unacceptable for Democrats to retain control of Congress.
Ms. Pelosi said she did not care that she was a target, as long as Democrats get re-elected — even if that means distancing themselves from her. (On Thursday, Representative Bobby Bright of Alabama became the first Democrat to publicly say he would not support Ms. Pelosi for speaker if he were re-elected.)
This unusual parliamentary-style attention to the House leaders is even more fascinating considering this observation by David Roberts at Grist last March, after the passage of health reform:
Nancy Pelosi is a G. Not only did she push the entire Democratic establishment to stiffen its collective spine after Scott Brown’s victory; not only did she masterfully and implacably whip votes for health care reform; under her leadership, the House has passed major progressive legislation on health care, climate change and energy, financial reform, and economic stimulus, to say nothing of many other smaller efforts. Were the U.S. a unicameral parliamentary system like most developed democracies, this past year would have changed the course of history and Democrats would have secured a generational majority. But: the Senate.
In other words, she ran the House like parliament, so maybe it’s not surprising she’s facing a parliamentary style referendum on her leadership, to some degree. No wonder the Republicans are desperate to stop her.