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Leaders Mum on ’08 Picks

Despite heavy courting from the 2008 presidential wannabes, the four top House and Senate party leaders are determined to spend the coming months on the sidelines and refrain from making any White House endorsements until clear nominees emerge.

Leadership aides say the Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders see little political benefit to making an early bet on a race that already stands to create intraparty divisions and distract from their legislative goals this Congress.

What’s more, at least two House Members and seven Senators are seriously eyeing a candidacy — a pool that promises to create chaos for leaders as they try to keep their caucuses unified and focused.

“What do you gain by getting involved?” asked a prominent Democratic operative. “When you are in a leadership position, the person who wins is going to work with you no matter what. If the person loses, you look weak.”

As such, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) all plan to hold back on choosing sides until their party vets a nominee. That posture comes even as candidates continue to line up key Congressional endorsements and pressure mounts to secure the high-profile backing of prominent party officials.

Already several leading Democratic Senators have taken sides, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has gotten behind his Illinois colleague Sen. Barack Obama, and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who is siding with home-state Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Several Republican Senators have lined up, too, most notably Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.) behind Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

On the House side, endorsements are starting to fly as well. So far, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has made the heaviest push to shore up House GOP backers — and in so doing caught the eye of several leaders including Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.). Despite suggestions that Boehner may prefer Romney, however, his aides insist the Republican leader doesn’t intend to make an early weigh-in on 2008.

“The Republican leader will stay on the sidelines until we have a nominee,” said Boehner spokesman Brian Kennedy.

Pelosi also plans to keep that posture as the Democratic primary heats up. Her stance is a break from the 2004 cycle when she endorsed former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). Gephardt’s run for the presidency cleared the way for Pelosi to become the top House Democrat, and it was no secret that she felt both personal and professional loyalty to the former House leader.

This time, Pelosi has friends involved in the race as well, including Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), whose sister was the Speaker’s roommate at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. Still, Pelosi aides insist she will not get involved this time until a Democratic nominee comes into view.

“The Speaker is the leader of the Democrats in the House,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. “She doesn’t feel it is her role to do it. She believes the process should play out.”

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