Pelosi urges Democratic unity amid Sanders' campaign surge

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives for a meeting with fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday urged party unity amid Bernie Sanders' surge in the presidential race, even as House Democrats worry about a volatile election season that could put a self-described democratic socialist atop the ticket and threaten their majority.

“I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we wholeheartedly embrace that person,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told the House Democratic caucus at a closed-door meeting. "We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity,” she said, according to a Democratic aide who attended the session. The aide was not authorized to discuss the private meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Down-ballot jitters are apparent as the Vermont senator takes an increasingly commanding lead in early voting and withstands the constant pummeling by rivals who have been unable to slow his rise.

With South Carolina's primary on Saturday, followed by the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, House Democrats are navigating how best to hold onto their seats while opponents try to lasso them to Sanders' socialist label.

Many first-term Democrats are counting on their own well-crafted brands, not the party's eventual presidential nominee, whoever that may be, to see them to reelection. The House majority was built by lawmakers who come from districts where President Donald Trump is popular, and his campaign operation will be turning out voters in the fall. But in a campaign cycle full of unknowns as the party tries to unseat Trump, they are relying on the backgrounds that pushed them to office in the first place to do it again.

"I will go into my race with the same degree of confidence, no matter who is at the top of the ticket," said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat from a competitive New Jersey district who supports former Vice President Joe Biden in the primary.

Malinowski said he will "absolutely" support Sanders if the senator becomes the party's nominee. But the congressman said Democrats need to simplify their message and seize the moment with a candidate who can topple Trump. “Why we would risk this extraordinary opportunity by nominating somebody who has a tendency to divide our own side is beyond me,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, are more open about their fears of a Sanders nomination.