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.
For California Democrats aiming for a career in politics, there were plenty of crusades to join: Berkeley's free-speech movement, early environmentalism, civil rights, peace, gay rights. But contrary to her image as a San Francisco liberal, Pelosi was never an issue activist. Unlike Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, a friend, Pelosi never subscribed to a movement beyond the Democratic Party.
"Her passion was always the Democratic Party as opposed to these issues one at a time, because she believed that the Democratic Party embraced these issues," says Senator Boxer.
Over time Pelosi mastered a diversity of relationships unusual even in politics, from traditional trade union bosses to the ethnic and gay communities that were transforming her adopted city. Her unlikely relationship with US Rep. Phillip Burton (D) of California was decisive in launching her own political career. A fiery liberal and master of the inside game, Mr. Burton came within one vote of being House majority leader in 1976.