By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 1, 2010; 11:46 AM
SAN FRANCISCO - If this is supposed to be a wave election, ushering in newly emboldened Republican stars and pushing out to sea old Democratic stalwarts, then the wave clearly has not reached San Francisco. It seems this may be the last pocket of America that still loves Nancy Pelosi.
Across huge swaths of the country, the Democratic House speaker has been vilified in hotly contested congressional races, including in one just 50 miles east of here in California's Central Valley. Yet in her home town of San Francisco, Pelosi is as revered as ever, with the only whiff of disapproval of her in this overwhelmingly liberal coastal city being that she has not pursued a progressive enough agenda in Washington.
"I figure if everybody else hates her, I probably love her," said Steve Malik, 45, a systems administrator here. "We go on road trips, my wife and I, and we did one in the last half of September, and once you get away from the coast, things become very, very conservative. You see, 'Nancy Pelosi is evil,' 'Barack Obama is evil,' 'Democrats are the Nazi party.' "
In the frenetic final week of midterm campaigning, The Washington Post dashed across America - seven states in seven days - listening to what voters have to say about this volatile moment in American politics. In many corners of the country, from Florida's swing Interstate 4 corridor to a working-class Philadelphia suburb to a foreclosure-ravaged neighborhood outside of Las Vegas, voters were disillusioned, angry and frustrated. Over and over, they said they have lost faith in their government and their leaders, particularly Pelosi and President Obama.
Pelosi is such a divisive figure that some embattled House Democrats are actively running against her, and a few have said they would not support her as speaker again.
Yet here in San Francisco, which Pelosi has represented in the House since 1987, voters interviewed on Sunday at bustling Union Square seem a world away.
Stewart Brown was walking Newton, his Chihuahua pug, when asked whether he was a Democrat or a Republican.
"A Republican? I don't think there are any Republicans here," Brown, 37, an audio engineer, said, looking across the park. "There might be Republicans visiting. I met one, my residence manager, but he's the only one. But I've only lived here for about 10 years."
While voters in places like McKee, Ky., in the Appalachian foothills, lamented a government they believed was tilting dangerously toward socialism, Brown and other voters here said they wish Pelosi had pushed a more liberal agenda, such as including the public insurance option in this spring's health-care bill.
"Because of the vilification and strong opposition, she's having a tough time pushing the progressive agenda, an agenda that I think people here in San Francisco would like to see," Brown said.
He and others said the vilification of Pelosi from the right is unwarranted.
"She is not the devil incarnate that everybody makes her out to be," said Mike Lowe, 75, a retired television executive, pausing while reading a book on his Kindle. "She's a forthright individual who's tried to do her best for the country. It's a job I wouldn't want because you're in everybody's gun sights."
Malik said he is proud of Pelosi but wishes she were less conciliatory with Republicans. "I feel like what's happened with a lot of the stuff right now is that the Democratic side is making concessions to win Republican support, and the Republicans aren't coming," Malik said.
Zaria Gunn, 19, an art student here, said she plans to vote for the first time on Tuesday - for Pelosi and for Democrats down the ballot. She defended Pelosi and said she wishes the changes that she and Obama have tried to implement could come easier.
"I don't think it's fair that Republicans are blocking the changes," Gunn said, citing climate change legislation as an example. "That's not cool."
"I'm just waiting for change," Gunn added, taking a break from filling out retail job applications at a park table. "I feel like a lot of the times my generation doesn't do anything because we're kind of overwhelmed by the world that we're led into. It just feels like it's crumbling."
Unlike in so many parts of America, the voters interviewed here said they think Pelosi is a good representative for the interests of the nation.
"I think she's speaking from her heart, and what she feels is right," said Frank DeStefano, 58, a hotel executive here.
"Sometimes," he added, "I don't have a lot of confidence in the politics of the rest of the country."