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Democrats Consider Life in the Minority

It’s the nightmare scenario House Democrats don’t want to talk about: a potential leadership bloodbath if they lose the majority.

The minority offers one fewer leadership slot, which would make for a messy post-election scenario in which Democrats already would be reeling from defeat. Unless Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or another leader falls on his or her sword, a high-profile leadership fight would be all but guaranteed.

Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has shown no inclination that he would be willing to give up the Whip job, which would leave Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) the odd man out. Hoyer could go after the leader job in a long-shot bid against Pelosi in a reprise of their epic 2002 face-off for Minority Whip, although one Hoyer ally said there was not even a remote chance he would do so.

Still, he’d have a powerful argument to make — that the party’s rejection at the polls suggests they need a more moderate approach. But more likely, Hoyer could take on Clyburn for Minority Whip instead, setting up a major Caucus battle between fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, the Congressional Black Caucus and everyone in between.

Neither prospect is particularly appealing.

Amid the kerfuffle last week over White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ statement that Republicans could take back the House, Clyburn told MSNBC that losing the majority was “highly improbable.” But asked by Roll Call whether he would want to keep his leadership post if the improbable happened, Clyburn hedged.

“The whip seat belongs to the Caucus,” he said. “They do with it what they want to with it.”

Clyburn, however, quickly begged off the line of questioning. “I’m not answering any hypotheticals.”

Hoyer, likewise, said in an interview that he expects to be Majority Leader next year and hasn’t given any thought to a return to the minority. “I’m not considering that alternative,” the No. 2 Democrat said.

Pelosi has given no hints about what she would do. “We expect to be in the majority and she expects to be Speaker,” a Pelosi ally said.

All three leaders appear to be making every effort to ensure that their positions in leadership are secure: They have all been active raising money and traveling to numerous districts. Hoyer, meanwhile, has given a series of high-profile speeches staking out a moderate vision on economic and security policy, and he is a sought-after speaker in moderate districts where Pelosi is viewed as more of a liability.

Democratic Members, aides and party strategists willing to discuss the prospects of a Democratic minority offered a range of opinions of what might happen. Several liberal Members said Pelosi would still have the edge in any possible fight with Hoyer, because the bulk of any 2010 losses would presumably be Hoyer’s moderate allies, who often populate swing districts.

If Hoyer is to enter any leadership race after November, one Democratic strategist predicted it would be against Pelosi rather than Clyburn. This Democrat opined that Hoyer would probably think he had a claim on the Minority Leader job given his current post as Majority Leader: “Hoyer would probably compete with her, that’s my assumption.”

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