Among the worst kept secrets in politics is the widespread expectation that Nancy Pelosi, the 82-year-old Democratic Speaker currently finishing her 18th term in Congress, will almost certainly retire sometime next year when Republicans retake the House. Her presumptive successors are already angling for both her seat in San Francisco and her leadership perch in Washington, where New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, assistant speaker of the House Katherine Clarke, and impeachment star Adam Schiff are all pre-positioning themselves for draft day, even if they’d never admit it publicly.
The Speaker’s inevitable departure will create a Pelosi-sized hole in the Democratic Party’s fundraising machine. After all, an enormous obligation of the House leadership role is the ability to coax Democratic donors into parting with veritable mountains of cash. And Pelosi, a centimillionaire herself who grew up in a political family, is perhaps the most gifted high-dollar fundraiser and ego-stroker in politics today. Last April, she raked in $4.4 million in a single week—the largest ever individual donor event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her successors though would be wise to read beyond the headline figures and pre-baked narratives about her “powerhouse” operation to understand exactly how she does it. And the best glimpse of that is in Napa.
“Napa,” of course, is the donor world metonym for the August retreat that marks the highlight of the Pelosi-era fundraising circuit. Every summer during the congressional recess, Pelosi and dozens of Democratic lawmakers converge on the vineyards north of San Francisco to snap photos and entertain donors in an ornately-arranged pageant of fundraising events across the region, all organized by Pelosi’s office and the D.C.C.C. It’s a weekend that showcases Team Pelosi’s finesse, attention to detail, and careful donor maintenance that she has cultivated over decades.