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Republicans want to make 2018 all about Nancy Pelosi. Are Democrats ready?

Are Democrats prepared for Pelosi — once again — to be used against their candidates?
Image: House Minority Leader Pelosi reacts as U.S. President Trump delivers his State of the Union address in Washington
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts as she sits with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill on January 30, 2018 in Washington.Leah Millis / Reuters

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

WASHINGTON — Facing a challenging midterm environment, Republicans are counting on two upcoming decisions to help them in the fall. One is Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott deciding to run for the Senate, because he would put Florida into play, and because his personal wealth will force Democrats to divert resources to protect incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in the Sunshine State.

Two — and maybe more importantly — they're counting on Nancy Pelosi deciding to stay in her position as House Dem leader, and becoming a foil for GOP candidates, especially those running in competitive and red-state congressional districts. Indeed, check out these back-to-back TV ads that Republicans are airing against Democrat Conor Lamb in next month's special congressional race in Pennsylvania:

  • The Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC: “A $2,900-dollar middle-class tax cut for our community. Now businesses are giving workers raises and bonuses and creating jobs. Yet Nancy Pelosi and Conor Lamb are still opposing your tax cut.”

Notably, Lamb has said he’d like Democrats to REPLACE Pelosi as leader.

And it raises an important question: Are Democrats prepared for Pelosi — once again — to be used against their candidates?

After all, Pelosi, the first and only woman to be House speaker, is more unpopular than President Trump is. According to last September’s NBC/WSJ poll, 39 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the president, versus 25 percent for Pelosi. And in so-called “Trump Counties” — the places that fueled Trump’s win in 2016 — Pelosi stands at 16 percent positive, 44 percent negative (-28), compared with Trump’s 44 percent positive, 45 percent negative score (-1), per November’s NBC/WSJ survey.

Additionally, for a Democratic Party trying to promote change in Washington — their platform is a “Better Deal” — is it a winning message for them to hitch their wagon to a former House speaker?

And remember, Democrats’ successes in 2017 (Virginia, New Jersey, Alabama) came in races where Pelosi wasn’t a central figure in GOP advertising. Compare that to their losses in GA-6 and MT-AL, where she was a focus of Republican attacks (see here and here).

Pelosi defenders believe her prodigious fundraising and her ability to keep a potentially fractured Democratic Party together in the House more than compensate for the GOP attacks against her. "I think I’m worth the trouble,” she said after Democrats’ loss in GA-6.

But how many Democrats — and Democratic candidates — agree?

Three questions heading into next month’s PA-18 special election

Indeed, next month’s special congressional race in PA-18 raises three interesting questions:

  1. How big of a drag is Pelosi on Democratic candidates, even ones who have disavowed her?
  2. Can Democrats win this Trump-y district outside of Pittsburgh? (Trump won it 58 percent to 38 percent in 2016.)
  3. And ultimately, does the race even matter, given that Pennsylvania looks like it’s redrawing its congressional map (so whoever wins might represent a fundamentally different district)?

But make no mistake: If Lamb loses, Pelosi will have to answer questions how/why Republicans were able to use her in defeating a candidate who didn’t even support her as leader.

By the way, Politico writes about what happens IF Pelosi remains as Democratic leader but Democrats don’t win back the House in November. “Assuming Pelosi either leaves on her own or is pressured to step down, her exit would trigger a messy battle between the party’s old guard, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and the party’s younger members, represented by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). It’s a generational showdown that's been put off for years, but one that Democrats might not be able to be avoid much longer.”

Senate leaders forge ahead on funding deal, despite Trump’s “shutdown” talk

Meanwhile, note how Capitol Hill is essentially ignoring the president of the United States. “Senate leaders expressed optimism Tuesday that a government spending deal could be near even as President Donald Trump said he would ‘love to see a shutdown’ if Democrats don't meet his demands on border security and reforming the legal immigration system,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

“Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that progress had been made on a deal that would set spending levels for two years — a much longer term agreement than the incremental stop-gap measures Congress has passed so far this fiscal year. ‘Senator Schumer and I had a good meeting this morning about a caps deal and the other issues we've been discussing for some months now. I'm optimistic that very soon we'll be able to reach an agreement,’ McConnell said.”

I love a parade… The tramping of feet… I love every beat… I hear of a drum:

NBC’s Hans Nichols and Phil Helsel: “At President Donald Trump's urging, the Pentagon is looking at dates for a possible military parade in Washington that could take place in November, a spokesperson confirmed Tuesday. The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that Trump expressed his desire for a military parade at a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals, and his desire was heard as a presidential directive. The paper cited two officials briefed on the planning.”

“‘We are aware of the request and are looking at possible dates,’ Charlie Summers, a Pentagon spokesman, told NBC News. He added that the process is in its ‘infancy’ but cited Nov. 11 as a possible date.”

Tillerson says U.S. is not “better prepared” for new Russian meddling

“In an interview with Fox News from Bogotá, Colombia, where he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Tillerson said Russia was gearing up to meddle with the 2018 U.S. elections following the playbook it used in 2016,” per NBC News. “Saying Russia has ‘a lot of different tools’ at its disposal, he said: ‘I don't know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt, as well. The point is, if it's their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps, but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to preempt it.’”

Dems flip another seat — this time in Missouri

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Democrats made a small dent in the GOP’s supermajority in the Missouri House on Tuesday, swiping a Jefferson County-based district that had been held by a Republican. Democrat Mike Revis snagged nearly 52 percent of the vote compared to Republican David Linton’s 48 percent, according to preliminary results from the Missouri secretary of state. Based on the unofficial results, Republicans held on to three other seats in four special elections on Tuesday, winning decisively in two western Missouri districts and narrowly in the southeast Missouri 144th District.”