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If Dems win, will Pelosi still be speaker?

Posted: October 12, 2010 11:03 a.m.
Updated: October 13, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Here's a crazy-sounding question: Could Nancy Pelosi lose by winning? If Democrats manage to retain the House, could the speaker's job be in jeopardy?

That sounds, I admit, totally backwards. In the ordinary course of things, the power of the triumphant general is solidified; the leader of the losing side is the one whose position is at risk. It's possible that Pelosi would step aside if Democrats lose their majority, but that would be her call, not one forced on her.

But consider the alternative. Defying expectations, Democrats manage to cling to their majority. Almost certainly, the new majority will be far narrower: 219? 220? 222? The margin of difference between keeping the majority and being sent back to minority status will likely be in the success of a handful of conservative Democrats who survive. Pelosi has become a favorite bogeyperson of Republican candidates. Endangered Democrats are running away from her.

Ominously, one, Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright, said Thursday that he would not vote for Pelosi for reelection as speaker. The freshman Democrat told a local TV station Thursday. "Neither the leader of the minority party, John Boehner, nor the present speaker, will get my vote," Bright told a local television station. "I will vote for someone, a centrist, who is much more like me."

Bright is the first incumbent Democrat to go that far, but others have taken pains to distance themselves from the controversial speaker. Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly ran an ad touting his vote against "Nancy Pelosi's energy tax on Hoosier families." Pennsylvania's Jason Altmire has a commercial boasting that he's "not afraid to stand up to" President Obama or Pelosi.

If more of these endangered Democrats are pressed to answer the speakership question and answer Bright's way, what happens if Democrats keep the majority and they are pressed to make good on this pledge?

No one should bet against Pelosi. She is the most powerful speaker in decades. She understands her caucus and knows how to count votes. There is no sign of any budding challenge, from Majority Leader Steney Hoyer (D-Md.) or elsewhere.

But the notion of a Democratic House without Pelosi wielding the speaker's gavel is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

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