In late 1986, Pelosi’s predecessor Sala became ill with cancer and decided not to run for reelection in 1988. She picked Pelosi as her designated successor, guaranteeing her the support of the Burtons’ contacts. Sala died on February 1, 1987, just a month after being sworn in for a second full term. Pelosi won the special election to succeed her, narrowly defeating San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt on April 7, 1987, then easily defeating Republican candidate Harriet Ross on June 2, 1987; Pelosi took office a week later.
Pelosi represents one of the safest Democratic districts in the country. Democrats have held the seat since 1949 and Republicans, who currently make up only 13 percent of registered voters in the district, have not made a serious bid for the seat since the early 1960s. She won the seat in her own right in 1988 and has been reelected 10 more times with no substantive opposition, winning by an average of 80 percent of the vote. She has not participated in candidates’ debates since her 1987 race against Harriet Ross. The strongest challenge Pelosi has faced was in 2008 when anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan polled 16% and Pelosi won with 72%.
She has the distinction of contributing the most among members of Congress to other congressional campaigns because she is in a safe district and does not need the campaign funds.