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Jewish World Review July 31, 2001 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Time warp -- SAN FRANCISCO'S Nancy Pelosi is bi-coastal. She spends her weekdays at work in the U.S. Capitol. On the weekends, she lives at home in the country's most beautiful city.

The culture shock hits on today.

"I come back East invigorated with the spirit of the West," she says. "It's in the air we breathe, the water we drink. I find myself meeting the old ways of doing things, having to fit into what's going on here."

This forward-thinking "time warp" is Pelosi's pitch for party leadership. The California lawmaker is promising to upgrade the Democrats into a state-of-the-art rival to the majority Republicans.

We'll soon learn the power of that pitch.

Minority whip David Bonior, D-Mich., is expected to announce his campaign for Michigan governor. Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., will then call an election to replace him. If Pelosi beats Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland - and she says she's got the votes! -- she becomes the House's No. 2 Democrat. If Gephardt runs for president, she becomes No. 1. If the Democrats take back the House, Nancy Pelosi becomes this country's first female Speaker of the House.

To get that first domino to fall, Pelosi wants Democrats to imagine how great it would be if they all fell.

What if the party could compete with the Republicans in fundraising? What if the party could win enough seats in 2002 to gain a majority and elect the first Democratic speaker in eight years? What if the party forged the 21st-century agenda and machinery to regain the enduring majority of their glory days?

Pelosi is unabashed on the money question. She claims the "biggest donor base of individual contributors" anywhere in the country. She claims the know-how to exploit it.

"It is the responsibility of the leader to win the majority and to maintain it when you win it. It's an on-going responsibility." She says that the Republicans beat them last time by spending millions on negative election-eve TV ads and that they will have "endless" money to do it again in 2002 and beyond.

"We have to be prepared to withstand the negatives that will come at us," she says.

This ability to raise tons of dollars is a tantalizing sales pitch to a party expecting to face 80 close elections next year. Their districts redrawn by the 2000 census, members of both parties will have to woo tens of thousands of new voters. That takes money -- TV money -- not just to sell yourself, but to fend off the trash being thrown on the air by the other side.

Pelosi is promising to get them that cash. She's offering herself as a human SDI to meet the "stealth money" the Republicans have the proven ability to use against targeted Democrats.

"We don't know how much or when, but there will be millions of dollars in the last weeks of the campaign."

A self-described "liberal," Pelosi knows that victory in '02 and the years ahead depends on how well candidates address local issues of current importance to voters. The old slogans won't work. What sells in hip San Francisco won't sell in square Indiana.

"These elections are won one district at a time. We have to see what the priorities are there, not what they were two years ago. We have to be constantly scrubbing to see what the interests are, which issues to emphasize."

It all comes back to money.

"One of the things I hope to do is to try and reshape political fundraising, to create more broad-based support, more wedded to issues at the grassroots level. Or else we will never retain power at the grassroots."

The mother of five grown children, she remains a dynamo of activity in her 14th year in the House. The jetlag and "time warp" of the weekly coast-to-coast commute has robbed none of her zest. For those who care or dare to note in these politically correct times, she is as beautiful in person as the city of San Francisco is to visit.

"I 'm a veteran," says the first-ever woman with a real chance to become Speaker. "You're either moving forward or slipping behind."

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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