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Nancy Pelosi puts her stamp on the House

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But when Pelosi attempted a run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1984-85, she was dismissed by some in the East Coast old guard as "an airhead" – a rich San Francisco liberal who could give parties, but what else? After setting up an office in Washington to campaign for the job, Pelosi dropped out a day before the vote, convinced that she couldn't win. But the experience marked her. "I always said that if I hadn't run for chair of the DNC I might not have realized how rough the intramural game can be on the Democratic side," she says.

Undaunted, she helped Democrats take back the Senate in 1986, as chair of the Finance Committee of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The effort earned her not just favors but an encyclopedic grasp of key outside players in politics and what their needs were, which would become an essential resource as speaker. "People talk about her enormous fundraising prowess, but it's because she understood the value of relationships," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and a former Pelosi deputy chief of staff. "She has built loyal relationships across this country, and people would walk across hot coals for her."

At the age of 47, Pelosi had raised five children, moved in the top echelons of party politics, and turned receptions in her San Francisco home into an ATM for Democrats. What she had not done was be elected to public office. That was about to change.

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