Quietly, without a shot being fired, a revolution is about to occur in American politics. There is a very strong chance that, one year from now, a woman will be third in line for the presidency of the United States.
If the current trend continues, Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives following the November 2006 congressional elections.
This development is remarkable on two counts.
First, the United States has lagged behind other Western-style democracies in elevating women to positions of national leadership. Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi were elected prime ministers of Israel, Great Britain and India years ago. A woman is now the chancellor of Germany.
And while women hold the governorships in a number of states such as Michigan, Connecticut, Louisiana, Kansas, Washington and Arizona, no woman has ever held a position of national leadership in our country.
Nancy Pelosi has risen through the ranks the old-fashioned way. A member of Congress since 1987, she was elected House Democratic whip and then elected House minority leader in 2002. Prior to that, she was chair of the California State Democratic Party and national fundraising chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). In other words, she has paid her dues just like men who have risen to prominence in the past.
She is a mother of five who didn’t enter elected office until her children were grown. At age 65, she is a mature politician with an attractive appearance who is not a threatening figure to male voters.
Second, the smart money is now on Democrats recapturing control of the U.S. House of Representatives next fall, even though many of the established political pundits have been saying for months that not enough seats are in play due to partisan redistricting in a number of states.
In fact, there are enough seats in play if public attitudes about the two political parties and about President Bush remain even close to their current levels. Prior to Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham's resignation Monday, Democrats held 202 seats in the House, Republicans held 231 seats, one Republican seat is vacant (a special election is being held), and there is one independent who normally votes with the Democrats. Thus, prior to Monday, Democrats needed to pick up only 15 seats to reach a majority (218). Cunningham's resignation only increases the odds for Democrats.
Let’s look at a recent Zogby poll about President Bush’s approval rating: 39 percent positive and 61 percent negative. Let’s also look at a recent Democracy Corps poll that showed 58 percent of the public wanting a significantly different direction for the country, with only 37 percent wanting to continue the direction set by President Bush. And a number of polls show Democrats with a wide lead in the generic ballot for Congress (would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican for Congress if the election were held today?).
But what about the pundits’ argument that there aren’t enough seats that will be seriously contested? There are Republican seats at play in a number of states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico and yes, even Texas (former Congressman Nick Lampson is making a real run at Tom DeLay).
I’ve been on the wrong side of a landslide and know what it feels like. I remember 1994 when Democrats lost the House for the first time in 40 years (I won with just 52.6 percent of the vote — about 10 percent below my normal electoral spread.)
It feels like you are in the bottom of a well looking up. It feels like you don’t want to get up in the morning, you don’t want to open the newspaper because of the possibility of more bad news and it feels like you don’t want to go to town hall meetings with constituents because many of them will be angry.
That’s exactly what Republican members of the House are facing today.
But back to the subject at hand. Congresswoman Pelosi is an experienced, tough-minded politician who will know what to do when she becomes speaker and thus third in line for the presidency. She doesn’t get as much press as her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (senators are always on television more than House members), but there is a real chance that she will make history next November.
It will be worth the price of admission to watch.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is currently a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.