It's criticism she has heard throughout her public life, but, like many besieged politicians, she seems to use it as fuel. "My friends, they would call me: 'Can you believe what they said?' " she says in an interview. "I said: 'Why are you calling me? Are you calling me to waste my time? If you don't like what they're saying, recruit volunteers, raise money, go door to door....' "
Pelosi isn't a Rhodes Scholar like Speaker Carl Albert (D) of Oklahoma (1971-76). She doesn't turn out rapid-fire policy ideas like Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia (1995-98). Nor does she see herself as a "coach" like Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois (1999-2006). On camera, she often appears awkward or stilted, especially under fire. (Faced with criticism that she knew about the Bush-era "torture" of 9/11 detainees and did nothing, she fell back on reading a statement. Pressed for clarification, she looked down and simply read it again.) But for raw organizational skills – preparation, networking, political instinct, and dogged persistence – Pelosi is in a class by herself.
"Nancy Pelosi has an exceptional political mind. She is constantly calculating the political implications of every circumstance that she encounters and what needs to happen," says Ronald Peters, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma who has interviewed every speaker since John McCormack (D) of Massachusetts (1961-70). "Few speakers come close to her in terms of constant organizational effort."