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Keep Nancy Pelosi in power? Many Mass. Democrats running for Congress are hesitant

Of the 24 Democrats running for House seats in the Sept. 4 primary, only six say they’d back Nancy Pelosi (center) if she seeks another term as leader of the party in the House.Michael Reynolds/EPA/Shutterstock/File

Nancy Pelosi says she isn’t going anywhere. Her support is unrivaled, save for White House hopefuls, the House minority leader claims. She says she “can take the heat.”

But in Massachusetts’ busy slate of House primaries, support for the California Democrat is registering at barely a simmer, leaving uncertain how much support she will get from the reliably Democratic delegation after the November midterm elections.

The Boston Globe asked each of the 24 Democrats on the Sept. 4 primary ballot in the state’s nine congressional districts if they’d support Pelosi for speaker — should Democrats win the House — or for another term as the party’s minority leader. Only one-quarter of them said they would.


Of the six candidates who backed Pelosi, three are incumbents. Seven of the candidates said they won’t back her, and 10 others — including four current representatives facing primary fights — were noncommittal, saying it was too early to make a pick. One Democrat did not respond.

In an election cycle marked by upstart challenges to longtime incumbents, the lukewarm backing of a 78-year-old former House speaker may not be surprising. But the prospect of Pelosi retaking the speaker’s gavel is one of the midterm elections closely watched story lines, even as many Democrats say their focus remains on taking the House majority.

“Clearly there’s a pent-up demand for change, especially in the House. And I think that’s being reflected in some of the challengers that are running across the country,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to the late-senator Edward M. Kennedy.

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But Manley said the decision for many not to commit to a leadership pick, including in tight primaries, is “one of the oldest tricks in the book.”


“I get it, it’s Massachusetts,” he said of the state’s solid-blue reputation. “But their unwillingness to come out publicly in support of her doesn’t surprise me at all — in part because who knows what’s going to happen after the elections? The safest bet is to hold your cards close to the vest.”

And many are.

Representatives Michael E. Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch, both of whom face primary challenges, would not say whether Pelosi is their leadership pick. But both have called on her to step aside in the past, including in a joint 2015 appearance on WGBH during which Lynch said Pelosi was “not going to lead the Democrats back into the majority.”

Now, Lynch is less committal, saying that it wasn’t “clear” who would run for the leadership post.

“So that is a question for another day,” said the South Boston Democrat.

His primary opponents disagree. Christopher L. Voehl, a former Air Force pilot, said he would not vote for Pelosi, while Brianna Wu, a video game developer, said she’s “not inclined” to support her. “I doubt Pelosi could tell you what she stands for beyond sound bites anymore,” Wu said.

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Capuano, who is vying for an 11th term, said it is too early to discuss party leadership “while we’re still fighting to get a majority in the House in the first place.”

His opponent, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley took a similar posture in response to a Globe questionnaire. “I would not hire a principal for a school without knowing the values and mission statement of the school,” she said.


Representative Richard E. Neal, a 15-term incumbent, also did not say he would back Pelosi, adding through a spokesman that if Democrats retake the House, he will vote for whoever the caucus nominates. His primary opponent, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud did not respond on Monday.

To be sure, Pelosi has the support of some Massachusetts incumbents seemingly on a glide path to reelection.

Representatives James P. McGovern and Katherine M. Clark — both of whom don’t have primary opponents, but will face a Republican challenger — say they’ll vote for her.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who faces Gary J. Rucinski, a project manager at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, in the Sept. 4 primary, also said he will vote for Pelosi. Rucinski said, if elected, he would make a choice “once the slate of candidates is available.”

Representative Seth Moulton, who doesn’t have a primary opponent, has been one of the most vocal in the party calling for Pelosi to go. An aide said Monday that Moulton’s stance hasn’t changed.

He has company in the state’s most crowded primary. Three of the 10 Democrats running to replace retiring Representative Niki Tsongas said they won’t vote for her, while others — including state Senator Barbara L’Italien, Representative Juana B. Matias, and Lori Trahan — said they’re waiting to make a decision.


Dan Koh — who topped a recent Boston Globe/UMass Lowell poll — and Alexandra Chandler, a former naval intelligence analyst, both said they would vote for Pelosi.

Rufus Gifford, a former US ambassador to Denmark, said he, too, would back Pelosi — but with a caveat. He suggested she serve for six months to a year, to give Democrats enough time to create a succession plan “where she can hand power over” to a younger, more diverse generation.

Representative Bill Keating said he remains “open to any candidate.” Bill Cimbrelo, who is running against him in the primary, indicated he wouldn’t support Pelosi. “Our nation is screaming for change,” he said.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.