House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi may have never set foot in Georgia's 6th Congressional District during the special election on Tuesday, but some Democrats wonder if her reputation there cost them a winnable race.
Following Democrat Jon Ossoff's loss in the race to fill the seat vacated by Department of Health and Human Services head Tom Price, many Democrats have worried that their opportunity to ride Trump's historic unpopularity to a wave election cycle in 2018 could be squandered by Republicans' effective ability to link any Democratic candidate with the unpopular Pelosi.
Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Pelosi for minority leader, said he did not know how Democrats could win in 2018 if Republicans are effectively able to convince independents and Republicans that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for Pelosi's agenda.
"I don't know if there is a solution in the short term," Ryan said. "It's clear that tactic still works, still packs a punch, and it's part of a broader toxicity of being part of the Democratic brand regardless of where you are."
Other Democrats were even more blunt.
"I think you'd have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top," Rep. Filemon Vela told Politico. "Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons."
Nancy Pelosi through the years
Nancy Pelosi through the years
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: File photo dated 08 May, 1996 shows US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, speaking during a Capitol Hill press conference in Washington, DC. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt (R, D-MO) is expected to announce 07 November, 2002 that he will not seek another term after the Republican opponents took both the House of Representatives and the Senate in mid-term elections 05 November. One of two Democrats vying to fill the spot is is Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi; the other is chairman of the Democratic caucus Martin Frost (D, TX). (Photo credit should read J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: US President Bill Clinton signs the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act Amendments of 1996 20 May at the White House in Washington DC. Standing behind Clinton are (L-R) Jeanne White, mother of Ryan, White House Aide Patsy Fleming, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), Rep. Henry Waxman(D-CA), Rep. Nancy Pelosi(D-CA). (Photo credit should read CHUCK KENNEDY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 25: HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS: Ranking member Nancy Pelosi ,D-Calif., during the House Appropriations,Foreign Operations subcommittee markup of FY 98 foreign operations appropriations. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
SLUG:NA/BAILOUT DATE:9/26/08 WASHINGTON, DC CREDIT: DOMINIC BRACCO II From left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) speak during a press conference about legislation for a bailout of the financial crisis on Capitol Hill on Sept. 26, 2008. (Photo by Dominic Bracco Ii/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush is applauded by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) and Vice President Dick Cheney (L) as he delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington 23 January 2007. AFP PHOTO/Larry Downing/Pool (Photo credit should read LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 10: WHIP RACE--Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, victor in the Democratic Whip race, talks to reporters and celebrates with supporting members after the Democratic caucus elected her to replace outgoing Whip David E. Bonior, D-Mich., who is running for governor of Michigan. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA,L) newly elected Democratic Minority Leader raises her hand with outgoing leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) 14 November, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Pelosi's election marks the first time in the history of the US Congress that a woman will lead her party. AFP PHOTO MIKE THEILER (Photo credit should read MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 26: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the California delegate breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2004. (Photo by Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 02: STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., talk before President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Harry Belafonte, Jessie Jackson and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (Photo by Moses Robinson/WireImage)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 04: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addresses the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center June 4, 2008 in Washington, DC. Democratic U.S. presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) are scheduled to speak to the same event. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MAY 22: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol May 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. Pelosi turned the news conference into an opportunity to list what she and the Democratic House leadership considered their successes of the 111th Congress' first session. She took a handful of questions about her upcomming trip to China and her statements about the CIA. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 23: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, right, and Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, shakes hands while addressing the media before a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 23, 2009. Maliki pledged to mend sectarian divisions and fight corruption as he urged the international community to continue providing support to his nation. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- Jan. 05: House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, accepts the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as the 112th Congress convenes at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) works with staff before a vote on the House floor during a typically busy day on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Thursday, June 23, 2011. (Photo by Melina Mara/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES â DECEMBER 1: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly on camera news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 22: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi attends the Public Counsel's 2012 William O. Douglas Dinner at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05: House Minority Leader Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) waves as she takes the stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media as female House Democrats gather around during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Leader Pelosi said that she has decided continue to lead the House Democrats and does not wish to retire at this time. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, bottom center, stands for a photograph with Democratic women of the House on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. 65 House Democratic women are part of the 114th Congress, the largest number of women in a party Caucus in the history of the Congress of the United States. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: (L-R) Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, Apple's SVP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, CEO of Apple Tim Cook, music producer Jimmy Iovine and Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi attend the Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Martin Bandier at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leave a meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center where Biden briefed members on the nuclear deal with Iran, July 15, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduces presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to the press for her on the Iran nuclear deal following her meeting with House Democrats during their weekly caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi works with staff in her House Leadership office during a typically hectic legislative day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Wednesday May 18, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) walks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after attending a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on June 22, 2016 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), chats with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), during a memorial service to honor the late Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), 49, who died from pancreatic cancer last July, at the US Capitol September 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) drive nails into a piece of lumber at the 'First Nail Ceremony' September 21, 2016 outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The ceremony marked the official launch of construction on the Inaugural platform where the next President of the United States will take the oath of office on Friday, January 20, 2017. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol September 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on a range of topics, including congressional negotiations on a new continuing resolution. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, following a meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. During their closed-door meeting, Pelosi expressed strong concerns about Trump's decision to name former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist, and asked him to reconsider the appointment. Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Bloomberg
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While demonization of Pelosi has been a staple of congressional races for years — in 2010, Republicans drove a bus around the country for the "Fire Pelosi 2010" tour — Democrats were particularly concerned by Republicans' ability to effectively blunt Ossoff's favorability by invoking Pelosi at every possible turn.
In a relentless war on the airwaves that made the election the most expensive House election in history, Republican Karen Handel and Republican groups tied Ossoff to Pelosi at every opportunity.
The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC paid for a car to drive around in the district with Ossoff's and Pelosi's faces and a sign that said "San Francisco <3 Jon Ossoff," while Pelosi was a feature on campaign fliers and mailers sent to voters in the district.
In a call on Wednesday, National Republican Campaign Committee Executive Director John Rogers said that the committee's internal data showed linking Pelosi to Ossoff helped motivate Republican voters.
"It had a motivating effect for our voters on the turnout front," Rogers said. "It remains to be seen how widespread Nancy Pelosi becomes as a messaging point for the fall of next year. I think it was effective here."
Data showed that Pelosi had 98% recognition in the district and was unpopular among 58% of the districts voters. When faced with a choice of whether voters wanted a representative to work with the minority leader or House Speaker Paul Ryan, six out of ten voters chose Ryan, while only three out of ten chose Pelosi.
Some Democrats in 2018 are already distancing themselves from the minority leader.
Joe Cunningham, a Democrat challenging Rep. Mark Sanford in South Carolina, pledged to vote against Pelosi for House leadership if he's elected.
The Democratic Party needs new leadership now. If elected, I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. Time to move forward and win again.
And part of the opposition to Pelosi likely has ugly gendered undertones.
The Daily Beast's Matt Lewis argued on Wednesday that part of Pelosi's toxicity was her status as a "liberal woman of a certain age."
"It's politically incorrect to admit this, but it seems that in much of the county, whether we're talking Hillary or Pelosi, they come across as hectoring," Lewis wrote. "What is more, this stereotype plays into policy concerns about the nanny state,' etc."
"We can label this visceral dislike of them 'sexist' if we want, but it seems to be that a lot of men and women alike are repelled by their style. To be sure, it is dangerous for me (as a dude) to note this, but it seems to be an observable phenomenon that liberals would do best not to ignore."
Pelosi herself has argued that the ads have undermined Republicans' calls for political civility, particularly in the wake of a shooting earlier this month that wounded Rep. Steve Scalise and several staffers.
"Probably as we sit here, they're running caricatures of me in Georgia once again, earned over a hundred million dollars of vitriolic things that they say, that resulted in calls to my home constantly, threats in front of my grandchildren," Pelosi said last week.
Many Democrats have dismissed criticism of Pelosi, noting that criticism of her often neglects to mention her effectiveness as a leader in passing key legislation.
"Nancy Pelosi's probably the best House leader that Democrats have had since and maybe even before Tip O'Neil," Rodell Mollineau, the co-founder of the consulting firm Rokk Solutions, said. "She's been able to keep Democrats together on issues when she's in the minority and when she's in the majority. ... The fact that she is a great House leader is why Republicans spend so much time trying to knock her down."
And for her part, the minority leader has argued that many of the negative impressions that Republicans have of her are equally true of Ryan among Democratic voters.
"Republicans blew through millions to keep a ruby red seat and in their desperate rush to keep stop the hemorrhaging, they've returned to demonizing the party's strongest fund-raiser and consensus builder," Drew Hammill, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, told the New York Times. "They don't have Clinton or Obama so this is what they do."
Other Democrats rejected the argument that Tuesday's loss meant the party did not have a chance to retake the House in 2018.
In a widely-shared memo, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shared data which suggested Trump remained incredibly unpopular in a number of contested districts.
"I don't make this statement lightly – I've never said it before," DCCC chairman Ben Ray Lujan said. "I know the road back to a Democratic House majority will be long and hard. It necessitates fielding strong candidates with diverse profiles that fit unique Republican-leaning districts. It demands that we continue embracing a big tent mentality, listening to the voices of everyday Americans and articulating a positive vision for our future. It demands that we build the best team possible and train the next generation of campaign staff."