Political Insider

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Ga. Democratic challengers distance themselves from Nancy Pelosi


Multiple Democrats running in Georgia’s two most competitive U.S. House races are disavowing Nancy Pelosi – or at least keeping their distance from the House Democratic leader – as they seek to neutralize a well-worn GOP offensive on the campaign trail. 

None of the six Democrats challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in the 7th District nor the four aiming to take on U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in the 6th District have publicly embraced the California Democrat, a striking rebuke of their party’s House leader. 

Four said they thought it was time for new leadership in the House Democratic caucus. 

"While I salute Leader Nancy Pelosi for her decades of service to our country and our party, I believe people are tired of business as usual in Washington and that new leadership is desperately needed in both parties,” said Kevin Abel, a businessman challenging Handel. 

His concern was echoed by fellow 6th District candidate Steven Knight Griffin, as well as 7th District challengers Steven Reilly and David Kim. 

“When you are not winning, you need to change the coach, change the team members or both. You can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” said Kim, a test prep company owner. 

Their comments came less than a week after Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory in a Pennsylvania congressional district that President Donald Trump won in 2016 by roughly 20 percentage points. Lamb ran on a solidly anti-Pelosi platform, providing a playbook for Democrats running in other swing districts.

Lamb’s win also prompted a fresh round of chatter about whether Pelosi should step aside after 15 years helming the House Democratic caucus. 

Pelosi and her allies insist she isn’t going anywhere. No one is a better fundraiser and vote counter, they said, and her popularity within the caucus is still strong.

“I am a master legislator, I am a shrewd politician and I have a following in the country that, apart from a presidential candidate, nobody else can claim,” Pelosi told the New York Times in a recent interview.

But Democratic challengers are seeing reasons to keep their distance from the first female House speaker, who is a divisive figure in Atlanta’s traditionally Republican suburbs.

A June AJC poll found that some 58 percent of likely voters in the 6th District held an unfavorable view of Pelosi at the time. 

Outside conservative groups aligned with Handel sought to capitalize on that, spending millions to frame Democrat Jon Ossoff as Pelosi’s puppet in last year’s 6th District special election. Political ads that blanketed the district warned of a “Jon and Nancy” partnership and the San Francisco values that would proliferate if Ossoff won.  

Handel has indicated she’ll rely on a similar playbook this year. A recent fundraising email to supporters included Pelosi’s name no less than three times

Several other Democratic candidates running in the 6th and 7th kept Pelosi at arm’s length this week but wouldn’t declare whether or not they planned to support her. 

Bobby Kaple, a former newscaster who is trying to position himself as the Democratic favorite in the race against Handel, said only that he would “vote for a speaker who best represents our district."

Kathleen Allen, a political organizer running in the 7th, said it would be “irresponsible for me to judge (Pelosi) preemptively” given her current position as a Capitol Hill outsider. 

Georgia State University professor and 7th District challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux said it was too early to speculate about who she would support for party leader but that “House leadership could use some new blood and new ideas."

Here’s how the Democratic candidates responded to the AJC’s inquiry about whether they would support Pelosi for speaker or minority leader should they be elected: 

Want New Leadership: 

  • Kevin Abel (6th District)
  • Steven Knight Griffin (6th District)
  • David Kim (7th District)
  • Steve Reilly (7th District)

Unclear: 

  • Bobby Kaple (6th District)
  • Kathleen Allen (7th District)
  • Carolyn Bourdeaux (7th District)

Did Not Respond: 

  • Lucy McBath (6th District)
  • Melissa Davis (7th District)
  • Ethan Pham (7th District)


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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.