Nancy Pelosi’s goal is to win 25 seats. Here’s how she thinks it can happen.

Updated 10:31 a.m.
 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks at a Democratic leadership meeting Tuesday on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post Tuesday that her goal is to win 25 seats this November -- a bold statement given that historical trends suggest that the party of a sitting president usually loses seats in the sixth year of his term.

Political forecasters generally agree that Republicans will expand their majority in November. Even The Washington Post's Election Lab predicted Tuesday that Republicans have a 99 percent chance of retaining control of the House.

Democrats need to hold on to the seats they currently control and win another 17 in order to win the majority. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responsible for electing more Democrats to the House, lists about 35 seats they’d like to flip from “red to blue," so even Pelosi's goal is more modest than her own campaign committee.

Which seats does Pelosi think Democrats can win? How will Democrats do it? She didn't name them all, but she named at least 13 races by district or candidate during the interview.

Below is a transcript of the exchange where Pelosi discussed her goal. It's a raw look at how a national political leader talks shop about her party's chances. Political junkies -- and Democratic and Republican campaign operatives looking for fodder -- surely will enjoy this exchange:

Question: You don’t control many of the congressional district maps. Are you still optimistic that you can make gains in November?

Pelosi: "Oh, absolutely. Remember, we are making our gains with no gavel, no White House [election], we out-raised the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and frequently the DNC. Not the RNC, I think they’ve beaten us a few times.

"The enthusiasm is there, and our grassroots, we have members, we have grassroots and we have major donors. That’s solid for us. The concern we have of course is the outside PACs, which are endless and undisclosed. But we’ll have to be good enough there, we’ll never match them. This whole thing is just ridiculous. I can out raise almost anybody, but it’s not the way we should go.

"My money is really idealistic, progressive money from around the country. It’s not any pragmatic money. They don’t give to me. I’m the last place they would come. But having said that, we have the most important thing and that are the candidates. They’re top-notch. We can hold our own or at least do better on the money, we have a message that we’re rallying around that has consensus and support in our caucus, we have a mobilization second to none to own the ground. And then we have the management of it that Steve Israel does so well with the campaigns to mobilize around a message and have the money to be able to convey that on the air. But you can only do so much on the air. If you don’t own the ground, you’re just putting money in the bank but not taking it out.

"I feel very certain that we will win the 17 seats we need. We have to net that though, which means we have to hold everything else. And right now, members are telling me now that the Koch Brothers are just pouring money into their districts. That has an impact, there’s just no question."

Question: Do any of the new candidates stick out in your mind?

Pelosi: "We have a large number of women candidates who are running. Kathleen Rice in Long Island. Across the country a good array of women candidates. I just really have a high degree of respect for all of them.

"For example, in Virginia we have John Foust running. In the Frank Wolf seat. I love Frank Wolf, I’ll miss him terribly, he’s my dear friend. But having said that, he’s not running. John Foust, he’s top-notch. A nonpartisan commissioner, very respected in the district talking about close to home, and that’s one where there’s a Republican seat.

"I mentioned Kathleen Rice in New York, that’s not a Republican seat, it’s a Democratic seat but it’s a seat we have to hold. Sean Eldridge up there is an important candidate for us. In Staten Island, Domenic Recchia. He’s a New Yorker, a perfect fit for the district. He’s really quite remarkable. We have to hold New England, we have everything in New England, We have to hold New England. We have Martha Robertson in the Seneca Falls area of New York, she’s great. Sean Eldridge, Dominic Recchia, Aaron Woolf. So we have great candidates there.

"Let’s go to New Jersey, Amy Belgard. She’s really terrific. She was in before the current incumbent got out of the race. We have [Bill] Hughes in that race up there against [Rep. Frank] LoBiondo. I don’t know how that one is going. But I’ve been to a number of fundraisers with Aimee Belgard, because she comes over to our events in Philadelphia, where we have a number of good candidates there.

"Virginia, I mentioned. Florida, you know is big for us. We’ll see how it goes. We have a few and we won that [legal] decision. Now we’ll see what the judge says about where we go from here. For now and for the future, but it really was necessary. It was a major involvement all around. But worth it. We have a wonderful candidate in Illinois, running there and she’s a judge. Judge [Ann] Callis. She stepped aside from being a judge in order to run for the seat. I mean, this is a big deal.

"These are people with options, they’re really talented people with options and that’s what you want in Congress – people with Congress.

"I’m doing it geographically so I’m not doing it in any special way."

Question: Any in California?

Pelosi: "Amanda Renterria [who's challenging Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.)]. Then we have Michael Eggman who’s running against [Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)]. And then in Nevada, we have Erin Bilbray [running against Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.)]. In New Mexico, we have [Roxanne "Rocky" Lara], we just call her Rocky. She’s fabulous and wonderful. We just have to hold in Texas what we have. Nothing has emerged there as a new opportunity. We’re going to hold [Rep. Pete] Gallego’s there. We will definitely win [Pete] Aguilar. We’ll definitely win that seat. The currently Gary Miller [R-Calif.] seat. I think we’ll at least win one to three in California.

"Arkansas is rich for us."

Question: You might have two there, right?

Pelosi: "We have two there. And we have such great candidates there. And then in the Midwest, we have to hold what we have, we have to win in Illinois. I go through this every night.

"I want 25, so how do we get 25? Well, it depends on how we do in Florida."

Question: How many do you think are in play now in Florida that they’ve made that ruling?

Pelosi: "It depends on the judge. He’s called in the lawyers. That’s what I read in the papers. What I’ve read in the papers is that he’s calling in the lawyers, and I don’t know what he’ll do next. Could be three seats, but what it does, is even if it’s not three seats, it’ll make our others easier."

Question: So winning 25 seats is your goal?

Pelosi: “We’re playing in about 70 districts. Twenty-five is my goal – I would like that. Seventeen is our must. I think we win 17 of those seats. We won 16 in the last election, but we lost eight. As [DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)] says, you don’t add by subtracting. Nobody knows. Nobody knows.

"The polling is so strange now. I and I just say to people, just run your race, get out your vote, go door to door, everybody you meet will vote for you, by and large. They’ve not met a member of Congress or a person who wants to be one. Know your district. Don’t underestimate your opponent but don’t overestimate them either. The candidates just give me so much confidence. And you just fight."

Read more of Pelosi's comments here.

UPDATE: The National Republican Congressional Committee responded to Pelosi's comments Wednesday morning: "We don't need a new slogan to know what Nancy Pelosi's agenda is — fewer jobs, runaway spending and ObamaCare. We hope Democrats run on her endorsement and platform; there is no better way to ensure Republicans pick up seats in November," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in an e-mail.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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