Pelosi Sees a Wave; Strategists Say it’s Just a Ripple Now

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 26, 2015 · 2:22 PM EDT

House Democrats don’t need to find themselves a cheerleader. They already have Nancy Pelosi.

“I think the Democrats could have the gavel in 18 months,” she told Texas Tribune reporter/Roll Call alum Abby Livingston recently. “Here’s the thing: I’m always optimistic. You have to be.”

“Even some pollsters are saying to us, ‘I see a prospect of a wave,’ ” Pelosi added.

It’s hard to fault the minority leader for being optimistic. I don’t think you can be in her position, or wake up each morning and go to work at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and not believe there is a possibility to retake the majority.

But the one line about a wave appeared to have substance behind it, so I reached out to a handful of Democratic strategists — real ones, not the ones who pretend to be strategists on cable talk shows — to see if they knew what their party’s House leader was talking about.

“No idea,” one consultant said.

“Don’t know,” said another strategist.

“First I’ve heard of it. And the only time,” according to a third source.

“I don’t know what she is referring to and not sure she does either,” according to a fourth consultant. “However her comment about picking these seats up ‘seat by seat’ is on target and I think we will pick up seats this cycle.”

To be fair, Pelosi had some reasonable political analysis mixed into her comments.

“Now, I think right now, today, you won’t tell anybody I said this: I see probably easily winning half the seats — maybe two-thirds — with what we have in place,” Pelosi said. “I don’t count sheep at night.”

Democrats need a net gain of 30 seats to win the majority. The party looks to be on target to gain seats, it’s just not clear if Democrats will get to the 15-20 range the leader talked about.

There is a scenario in which some Democrats believe a wave could develop in their favor, with a combination of presidential turnout similar to when President Barack Obama was on the ballot and a polarizing GOP nominee. Democrats gained 37 seats in 1964 when Republicans nominated conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

But the scenario isn’t backed up by data, at least not at this point. One Democratic strategist pointed out that the party has opportunities to take over a couple seats in the Virginia state Senate this year, but there isn’t evidence of a broader wave against Republicans.

Democrats hope that Republican infighting, most evident in the GOP’s struggle to elect a new House, and continued focus on the Republican majorities in Congress will cause voters to turn to Democrats in 2016. But it seems more likely that the presidential nominees will dominate the election conversation next year. And the House only comes into play with another Goldwater situation, or if the GOP infighting causes a large number of Republican members to retire from swing districts.