Pelosi: Democrats Must Reach The Working Class House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to speak on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. She says the party needs to reach out to blue-collar voters and show critics that Barack Obama will fight for working families.

Pelosi: Democrats Must Reach The Working Class

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Democrats may not be nominating a woman but they did put a woman in charge of their convention. It's not the first time that's happened. Back in 1976 Cokie's mom, Lindy Boggs, ran the show. In 2008 Nancy Pelosi will be holding the gavel. She is a lightning rod for conservative criticism.

We did some voter interviews recently and her name came up more than once. But she's had practice with that gavel as the first woman speaker of the House. NPR's Linda Wertheimer has more.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: In January of 2007 when the Democrats took over the House of Representatives after a dozen years in the minority, the outgoing Republican speaker presented the gavel to Nancy Pelosi, and she held it up over her head.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California, Speaker of the House): For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. PELOSI: For our daughters and our granddaughters now the sky is the limit. Anything is possible for them.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Pelosi loves to show visitors the view from the tall windows of her office in the Capitol. It stretches down the mall to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, but she does it to make a point.

Rep. PELOSI: The punchline is many consider this to be the most beautiful view in Washington. I think it's lovely, but second only to the view from the podium, the speaker's chair, looking out at all those Democrats.

WERTHEIMER: Pelosi plainly enjoys her power. Tonight she'll have a lot of it as she faces thousands of Democrats in Denver's Pepsi Center. And beyond them, millions of people tuning in to find out what the Democrats are about at this convention. One big challenge she faces, almost half the people in the arena are Hillary Clinton delegates. There's no chance, the speaker says firmly, that this convention will swing out of control. The Hillary delegates will have their day, but the convention will belong to Obama.

Rep. PELOSI: I'm very pleased that we're going to have the roll call vote. I think that was very, very important to do. But I don't think that that means those people are against Barack Obama. There may be some who are still unhappy about the outcome and that's understandable, but as I say, they're Democrats and they know that if we're going to go take the country in a new direction, we cannot have four more years of George Bush. And that's what John McCain would be.

WERTHEIMER: Does she share their disappointment that there is no woman on the ticket?

Rep. PELOSI: I would love to see a woman president, a woman vice president, a woman on the ticket every single time, maybe two woman on the ticket one of these days, the way we've had two men. But it's no use discussing that. We have a candidate. Joe Biden brings enormous credentials to the ticket in terms of our national security and the public safety of our families and our neighborhoods.

WERTHEIMER: Nancy Pelosi, who grew up Nancy D'Alesandro in Baltimore's Little Italy, learned politics from her dad, who was Baltimore's mayor. Their neighbors, she says, were the same working class Catholics Joe Biden grew up with in Scranton, PA. She thinks he's the right person to deliver the Democrats' message to everyday people, people who have been dealt out of the game, as she says. I asked her why Barack Obama needs that kind of help.

Rep. PELOSI: Well, I think part of that springs from the campaign and how he was characterized by others. So again, the challenge then is that we - people understand better who he is. And again, if others will criticize him because he is lofty in his aspirations, we have to make sure that people know that those aspirations are not for himself but for working families in our country.

WERTHEIMER: Nancy Pelosi's first Democratic Convention was a long time ago. She came with her parents in 1952 carrying a toy donkey she named Adlai after that year's nominee, Adlai Stevenson. Now she's got the big gavel and big plans. She says that when the Democrats win larger majorities in the House and Senate, her first priority will be to end the war in Iraq and then rebuild the economy.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Denver.

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