Pelosi promises a rare endorsement

December 4, 2015

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rarely gets involved in  presidential primaries. Because she has so often held important positions in her party’s organization, the former House Speaker has endorsed in the nomination race  only twice since 1976, the year she was first elected as a Democratic National Committee member from California. This race around, Pelosi said she will break her streak of non-endorsements.

In an interview with Reuters, she would not disclose which Democrat she would choose, citing ties to  former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders, a former House Democratic colleague.

Nancy Pelosi speaks during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco, California June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

But Pelosi, who as Speaker (and next in line for the presidency after the vice president) became the highest-ranking female politician in U.S. history, was openly enthusiastic at the idea of having a woman president. “I think it would be so exciting. It would be so fabulous,” she said.

Pelosi last endorsed a candidate in 2004, when she gave the nod to Richard Gephardt, a fellow House Democrat, whom she succeeded as Democratic Minority Leader.

And in 1976, she endorsed then-California Governor Jerry Brown, in a campaign that Brown, at least, says is the reason for Pelosi’s rise in U.S. politics. “He would say that his presidential race is why I’m sitting here now, why I was in the Speaker’s office,” Pelosi told Reuters in an interview in her Capitol Hill office this week.

That April, Brown told Pelosi he was planning to run  in the California primary, which was not scheduled until June 8, the last day of the primary season.  She said she told him he should not wait until then, and suggested he throw his hat into the ring in Maryland, where election law allowed Brown to run in the state primary and where, perhaps more importantly, she had grown up in a family who were major players in Democratic politics.

Pelosi marshaled her father and brother, both former mayors of Baltimore, to help the campaign boosted by artists like Brown’s then-girlfriend Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and Jackson Browne, who gave concerts. They had just a few weeks to build and run a campaign before Maryland’s May 18 primary, but, Pelosi said, they blanketed the state.

“We had a Maryland  campaign for him. And he was fabulous. He was absolutely, totally, fabulous,” Pelosi said.

Jimmy Carter had already won about a dozen primaries, but Brown won in Maryland, which shocked his supporters back home.

“We went back to California, people were like, ‘What?!’” Pelosi recalled, laughing.  Although Carter won the nomination, and the presidency, Brown triumphed in Nevada on May 25 as well as in California, with a strong showing in Oregon. And he attributed his success in Maryland to Pelosi, but took credit for her rise, claiming she was launched by the 1976 Maryland primary.

When she first became House whip years later, Brown came to Washington. “He was sitting the first row, and he said, ‘I made his happen,’” Pelosi said.



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