Every two years since 2010, the year House Democrats were smothered in a Republican wave election and lost their majority, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has faced the question.
It comes from reporters and Capitol Hill staffers, opponents and allies, ladder-climbers and donors alike. The gist: Is this it? Is this the year she’ll hang it up, pass the torch and bid farewell?
The closest the California Democrat ever came was following the 2010 election, a current aide says, given the staggering shock of the 63-seat Republican tsunami. Even the liberal New York Times editorial board called for her head.
In 2012, she briefly contemplated going out on a high note, given the reelection of President Barack Obama and the recovery of a handful of Democratic seats.
And in 2016, the disorienting nature of Donald Trump’s triumph again kindled the notion that Democrats needed someone fresh and untainted by years of attacks to guide them out of the political desert.
But while she notoriously keeps her cards close to her vest – “She’s never going to let you know; she’s never going to let you see it,” a former campaign hand assures – those nearest to the soon-to-be 77-year-old House minority leader never truly believed she’d walk away from an epochal battle with Trump.