The Democratic Party's two most powerful women shared a stage in San Francisco Monday, and for Republicans, it was a glimpse of how tough 2016 could be.
Hillary Clinton and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi haven't always been the closest of political friends, but this was the second time in a month they'd teamed up to raise money for Democrats. Clinton and Pelosi also have an eye on the upcoming presidential campaign, when a bigger turnout among women could boost the party's prospects of winning the White House and gaining ground in the House. The joint appearance was a show of the party's consolidation behind Clinton's expected White House bid. "She has lifted our efforts to a whole new level – and added new luster to our campaign for the House," Pelosi said of Clinton in an emailed statement.
At the San Francisco luncheon fundraiser with women, Pelosi said "the best action we can take" to grow the economy "is to unleash the power of women." Clinton told the group that they "can elect Republicans who keep blocking paycheck fairness or vote for Democrats who will fight for American families."
The emerging Democratic gender strategy, which Pelosi dubbed #girlpower in a recent tweet, provides a striking contrast to Republican field.
The Clinton-Pelosi alliance was only recently forged; in 2008, Pelosi tacitly backed Barack Obama over Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary. Now, the party's two most prominent women are united as Clinton needs Pelosi's Democrats to act as surrogates, fundraisers and heat shields in 2016, and Pelosi's blessing sends a loud message to fellow liberals in the ranks of donors and activists to fall in line behind Clinton. Both are hanging their fates in part on the Democratic Party's ability to continue exploiting its advantage with women voters two years from now as President Barack Obama's poor ratings have hampered Democratic candidates in the current election cycle.
From Pelosi's perspective, a Clinton victory in 2016 would preserve the legacy of her House, which was instrumental in passing banking reforms and Obamacare. It also would keep the Democrats on offense on policy issues, even if it might fall short of providing long enough coattails to return Pelosi to the speaker's office. Pelosi told Bloomberg News last month that Democrats have been able to successfully appeal to independents on the basis of advocating for women, an assertion that is backed up by the gender gap in recent elections. "In these persuadables, equal pay for equal work goes through the roof, goes through the roof," Pelosi said of Democrats' edge over Republicans. "It is something the public believes. They believe that they’re against equal pay for equal work."
Republicans see an unintended benefit for the pairing — a chance to link both women to President Barack Obama. "Not even this Hail Mary can help Democrats beat back the American people's disgust with the Clinton-Pelosi-Obama policies that are weakening us abroad and endangering us at home," National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.
Clinton and Pelosi traveled a long road to find their common ground.
The ill will between them grew so toxic in 2008 that aides conspired to prevent them from running into each other at party headquarters in Washington, afraid of an icy encounter. Pelosi, then the House speaker, remained technically neutral during that primary, strengthening Obama by denying Clinton the support of the nation's top female elected leader. One of his tactical victories in that contest was getting high-profile women, including Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, to endorse him or, like Pelosi, stay on the sidelines.
More damaging to Clinton, Pelosi said in an ABC News interview that party-leading "super-delegates" should vote for the victor among "pledged" delegates — a position Obama had secured by that time — at the Democratic convention. Some donors to both women let Pelosi know that they were displeased with her handling of the situation, issuing an implicit threat to withhold future funding for Pelosi's House Democrats by noting how much they had given to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the past.
"As Democrats, we have been heartened by the overwhelming response that our fellow Democrats have shown for our party’s candidates during this primary season," the donors wrote in a March 2008 letter. "Each caucus and each primary has seen a record turnout of voters. But this dynamic primary season is not at an end. Several states and millions of Democratic voters have not yet had a chance to cast their votes. We respect those voters and believe that they, like the voters in the states that have already participated, have a right to be heard. None of us should make declarative statements that diminish the importance of their voices and their votes. We are writing to say we believe your remarks on ABC News This Week on March 16th did just that."
With Clinton's appearance at her second DCCC fundraiser this month—at Pelosi's request, in Pelosi's backyard and with Pelosi donors in attendance— the tension between the two camps appears to have evaporated. Pelosi began encouraging Clinton to run the month after the 2012 election, telling NBC's Andrea Mitchell "I hope she goes."
As Tim Miller, the executive director of the Republican super-PAC America Rising, notes, Clinton stands to gain from pitching in at a time when the party is scrambling to contain expected Republican gains in the House. "Clearly, House Democrats are in for a long night in November as they are moving their money towards seats once thought to be safe," Miller said of Clinton's appearance at the fundraiser. "So, it's both needed and allows Secretary Clinton to be a good soldier for a losing cause."
Pelosi's office played down past tension, as a spokesman for the minority leader said she and Clinton have never had anything but a great relationship. Though Pelosi's call for super-delegates to follow the will of Democratic Party voters in 2008 was delivered on national television at an inopportune time for Clinton, it was a position Pelosi had held on the process of selecting a nominee for many years. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill praised Pelosi as a "strong leader" and "tireless advocate for Democrats and Democratic values. Clinton, he said, is "thrilled to join forces with her to help Democrats in the midterms."
DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, the immediate beneficiary of the Pelosi-Clinton fundraiser and an ally to both women over the years, said the Clinton-Pelosi tandem is helpful for party. "There are few people in this world who have done more for the Democratic Party than Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton," the New York congressman said. "These two barrier-shattering women are united in their goal of electing a Congress that will fight for the middle class instead of stacking the deck for special interests."
Spencer Soper in San Francisco contributed to this article.