Self-described “old straight white” guy Stephen Jaffe has joined the list of those trying to topple Democratic Party icon Nancy Pelosi.
Sound familiar? Like others before him, Jaffe would be a longshot to upset the 16-term incumbent and long-reigning top House Democrat. But their 2018 primary race in Pelosi’s San Francisco-centric House district is being cast as the latest battle between the Democratic establishment and the far left for control of the party.
The years-long, internal divide was fully exposed in the party’s 2016 presidential primary when self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders challenged establishment candidate Hillary Clinton. And it has reemerged in subtle and not-so-subtle ways in the ensuing months.
Jaffe, in an interview with Fox News, expressed mixed feelings about his race being characterized as the latest episode in the Sanders-Clinton proxy fight.
“I have great admiration for Bernie Sanders,” Jaffe, a 71-year-old employment lawyer, told Fox News. “So to a degree, I’ll say yes to that [portrayal]. But I’m my own man. Many of our policies may coincide, but I’m not a Bernie clone or mouthpiece. This is a Jaffe-Pelosi race, not a Sanders-Clinton race.”
California has been a key battleground in the fight for the so-called “heart and soul” of the party since Clinton’s stinging November general election loss. The state Democratic Party’s previously low-key delegate and executive board selection turned into a Clinton-Sanders proxy battle in January. Sanders’ wife Jane claimed on Twitter at the time that “progressives swept” the process. Political analysts also pointed to California’s special election last month for the open Los Angeles-area House seat of Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, now the state’s attorney general.
The 23-candidate field included Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, endorsed by the state Democratic Party, and former Sanders adviser Arturo Carmona, who failed to advance to a June runoff with Gomez.
Even recent news that former President Barack Obama accepted a $400,000 Wall Street speaking gig was grist for the mill, with Sanders types bemoaning the establishment’s continuing ties to big-money interests.
“The Obama situation did gin up that tension,” Ben Tulchin, a Sanders 2016 pollster and president of Tulchin Research, told Fox News on Monday.
However, he disputed whether the Pelosi-Jaffe race reflects a Clinton-Sanders dynamic, considering it involves two liberals in San Francisco.
Still, Jaffe’s platform echoes Sanders’ with its calls for universal health care and getting big money out of campaigns. He acknowledges that beating Pelosi will be difficult, considering her national profile and fundraising prowess.
Jaffe intends to exploit those attributes.
“She’s much more popular nationally than in San Francisco. And she has a sense of entitlement. That is not how democracy works,” said Jaffe, who points out that much of Pelosi’s fundraising money comes from banks, big pharmaceutical companies and other corporate entities.
He says his fledgling campaign has raised nearly $15,000 in two weeks, with the average, Sanders-style donation about $27.
Pelosi, who endorsed Clinton, has been the top House Democrat for more than a decade, but her past seven years on Capitol Hill have been difficult.
Under her leadership, Democrats lost control of the House in 2010 to Republicans, who now hold a record majority. And last year — days after Clinton lost and Pelosi failed to make good on vows to regain the majority — House Democrats challenged Pelosi for her post. They argued Washington Democrats’ San Francisco-New York mentality has ignored the needs of middle-America.
The 77-year-old Pelosi prevailed with two-thirds of the vote.
As further proof of her seeming invincibility, Pelosi has won 11 of her total 16 House races by more than 80 percent. One exception was the 2008 race when challenged by independent Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Iraq War and who became a national figure in the anti-war movement.
Pelosi’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
“Do I think she is unbeatable or that this is slam dunk? No,” Jaffe said. “But I do think it’s possible to pull off a spectacular upset. I’m going to shine a light on her votes and her issues.”