Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Pelosi Conditionally Endorses Schiff

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) may technically be a backbencher these days, but she's possibly the most powerful backbencher in the history of Congress. When she speaks, Democrats listen. And yesterday, she spoke up and said that "If Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support. If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy."

There is little here that is surprising, per se. Schiff has been one of Pelosi's most loyal and most trusted lieutenants for years, and so of course she backs him. Beyond that, you don't generally get to be a leading member of your party if you develop the habit of throwing other prominent members of your party under the bus, particularly if those members come from the same state and city you do. Pelosi and Feinstein have been close allies for 30 years, and it's inconceivable that the former speaker would openly call on the current senator to step down.

Nonetheless, the subtext here is as plain as day. Pelosi has made very clear that a worthy successor to Feinstein is available, and that she (Pelosi) and the rest of the Democratic establishment are just waiting to line up behind him. All the Senator has to do is give word that she's standing down. And, hint hint, Pelosi would like to see that announcement come sooner rather than later, so the race can get underway in earnest.

We should also point out that there is a nightmare scenario here for the Democrats:

  1. Feinstein decides to run again
  2. The Republicans coalesce behind a non-whackadoodle candidate
  3. In the jungle primary, the progressive Democrats split the young/lefty vote, and Feinstein and the Republican advance
  4. In an ugly general election campaign, voters are warned over and over that Feinstein is in cognitive decline
  5. Feinstein does one or more things during the campaign to reinforce that impression, like botch a debate or fumble easy questions from reporters
  6. A bunch of moderate Democratic/independent Californians conclude that a mentally firm non-whackadoodle Republican is better than a mentally infirm Democrat
  7. The votes of the above group plus the votes of the Republicans constitute a majority

A lot things have to break in just the right way, but the above sequence is at least plausible. And it's probably the only way that California sends a Republican to the U.S. Senate anytime in the next generation.

In view of this slim-but-nonzero possibility, we imagine that many Democrats who are less close to Feinstein than Pelosi is are twisting the Senator's arm a bit behind the scenes. And we also imagine that will get more aggressive, and more public, the longer that Feinstein waffles. If she actually jumps in, then it will be very interesting indeed to see what folks like Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) do. (Z)

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