By ZACHARY COILE
San Francisco Chronicle
March 10, 2008
"I would encourage both of them, as I have, to remember we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is the general election in November," Pelosi said at a luncheon in New York.
Pelosi, who has stayed resolutely neutral in the race, said it's time for the candidates to cool the overheated rhetoric of their surrogates and return the focus to the issues.
"We are all very passionate about our politics and the issues we believe in, but we have to be very dispassionate about how we approach winning," Pelosi said. "We have to lift the debate to a place that does not turn off the American people."
She said the intensifying rhetoric will only help the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"There is absolutely no question that I have concerns about the attacks that are being made on one candidate or another," she said. "I do have concerns that the negativism can diminish our prospects for the general election."
Pelosi's remarks were some of her sharpest comments about the presidential race. She often deflects questions about the campaign, but this time she waded in deep. She also served notice that Democratic leaders may step in if the infighting threatens the party's long-term interests.
Pelosi said the attacks are becoming too personal on both sides. She warned that they could not only damage the nominee, but could also hurt Democrats' hopes of maintaining or growing their majorities in Congress.
"My responsibility as speaker is to make sure that I have a Democratic majority in the Congress of the United States," she said. "So while I want these candidates to operate on a proper tone so one of them will be in the White House, I have to insist upon it because I can't have their -- if you want to call it bickering -- have an impact on my congressional races."
Pelosi said she believes that supporters of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have grown strongly attached to their respective candidates. She worries how those voters will react when -- inevitably -- one of the two candidates loses.
"So many new people are involved because of Barack Obama, and we don't want them to be disenchanted," Pelosi said. "On the other hand, there is a chance that he might not win, and hopefully he will keep them in the fold. I think it will be about his leadership, too -- whether he wins or not -- to keep them in the fold and to attract others."
She said the same is true if Clinton loses the fight for the nomination. Many of Clinton's supporters, especially women, are just as passionate about her candidacy, and those voters will be crucial in November, Pelosi said.
"You have to have a thick skin in this business. You can win or you don't win, but it doesn't mean you pick up your marbles and go away," she said.
Pelosi said she was closely monitoring the dispute over Michigan and Florida, the two states that were stripped of their delegates because they violated Democratic Party rules by holding their nominating contests too early. Clinton -- who won both contests in which neither candidate actively campaigned -- is pushing for those delegates to be seated at the convention, while others are calling for "do-over" elections.
Pelosi recalled that as chair of the Democratic Party's 1984 convention in San Francisco, she was the chief enforcer of similar rules on early primaries.
"The rules are the rules. You really can't say, 'OK, well, we had the rules, but never mind,' " Pelosi said. "Having said that, the politics are the politics, and it's going to be up to the Democratic National Committee, the states involved and the campaigns to resolve this issue."
Pelosi said she's staying out of the fracas because, as chair of the party's convention in Denver in August, she may be called upon to referee the dispute.
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