Rep. Nancy Pelosi needs a gain of 25 House seats.

Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Washington — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is predicting that Democrats will recapture the House in November, a move that could open the possibility of the San Francisco Democrat regaining the speakership and becoming the first politician to return to that office after a defeat since Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn in 1955.

Pelosi, 71, needs a net gain of 25 Democrats nationwide, a goal she calls her “Drive for 25.” She has predicted gains as large as 35, produced in part by a Democratic romp through California, where the redrawing of legislative districts by a nonpartisan citizens commission promises the biggest shakeup in the state’s congressional delegation in two decades, along with gains in Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida.

Independent analysts said Pelosi is dreaming. Unless, that is, the Republican presidential nominee, whoever it is, implodes.

A disaster at the top of the GOP ticket, analysts said, would hand President Obama down-ballot coattails he doesn’t appear to have at the moment. With the GOP primaries turning into a blood feud between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the possibility is becoming more tantalizing for Democrats.

“What Democrats really need is a poisonous, damaged Republican nominee who not only loses to Obama but causes harm down the ticket,” wrote Kyle Kondik, editor at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

As of now, Democrats stand to gain five to 12 seats, well short of the 25 they need to make Pelosi speaker again, said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.

“Democrats are most likely going to gain seats, just not the net gain of 25 they need to take the majority,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think we can rule it out, but it’s not the most probable scenario right now.”

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, called Pelosi’s talk of gaining 35 seats “optimistic even for an optimist.” The only way that could happen, he said, would be for Obama to win as convincingly as he did in 2008.

Since then, Obama has been rebuked by a GOP landslide in the 2010 midterms, where Republicans netted 63 seats, a record since 1938.
Political radioactivity

Pelosi, the nation’s first female speaker and the nation’s highest-ranking female politician ever, was toppled after just two terms as speaker. Vilified by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal, Pelosi became a symbol of Democratic excess and is radioactive in marginal Democratic districts.

Surprising the Washington establishment by staying on after that defeat to lead Democrats in the minority, Pelosi has remained on the national stage but with sharply reduced visibility. This year’s focus will be on the presidential race, not Congress, and certainly not minority congressional leaders.

But if Democrats win a majority, analysts see no reason Pelosi should not lead the House again.

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