Republicans may have Nancy Pelosi to kick around a while longer.
The soon-to-be ex-Speaker has not made her plans public, but the California Democrat has been acting as if she will run for House Minority Leader — to the chagrin of some party moderates, who say it’s time for new leadership after the party suffered its worst defeat in generations in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
“It sounds like she’s running,” said a senior Democratic aide, noting Pelosi’s calls to Members to gauge support.
“She wants to be vindicated,” the aide said. “She wants to win back the House. She wants to say she did it.”
The broader issue is the ongoing scrum between moderates and progressives over the elections, the aide said. Progressives point to the depressed Democratic voter turnout and think that Pelosi, in progressive fighting form, would do more for Democratic-base turnout in 2012 than would a moderate like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.). Some progressives fear that Hoyer, Pelosi’s heir apparent, would compromise too much with Republicans, while moderates argue that Pelosi has become a polarizing and deeply unpopular figure in critical swing districts, which Democrats will need to win to regain the majority in 2012.
One former Democratic leadership aide said Pelosi is definitely running for Minority Leader, and “she is hearing what she needs to” in terms of support. A liberal party strategist, meanwhile, told Roll Call that some big Democratic donors have reached out to Pelosi and urged her to stay.
A Democratic lobbyist said he heard that Pelosi’s close ally, Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), started spearheading a campaign Wednesday to call Members “to try to gauge where people were” on the question of whether Pelosi should be Minority Leader.
“There is an effort under way to ascertain what her standing is in the Caucus,” the lobbyist said. The lobbyist added that Pelosi was “livid” Thursday at news that Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) might challenge her for the position and that she and her supporters now “feel like there’s an effort to push her aside.”
Another Democratic aide speculated that Pelosi might be testing the waters because she would want unanimous or nearly unanimous support were she to decide to stay. To get such backing, the aide said Pelosi likely would “have to make the case to the Caucus that there’s going to be wholesale changes ... that no one is taking it harder than she is and she’s making wholesale changes in the way the Caucus will be run. ... If they believe that she is going to make some changes ... then maybe that’s enough.”
But the aide said Pelosi needs to start making an aggressive case soon if she wants to stay. “If she really wants to do it, then she’s got to get people out there advocating for her and making the case for her. ... It can’t just be perceived as her own lonely mission,” the aide said, noting that the more time that passes without hearing directly from her supporters, the more damage will be done to her public perception.
No one, including Hoyer, appears to have enough support to defeat Pelosi should she decide to run. Hoyer’s base suffered a big blow when many of the party’s moderates lost on Election Day, and sources close to Hoyer have insisted that he would not challenge her.
Liberal bloggers are also urging Pelosi to stick around. Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos blog started a petition urging her to stay.
Republicans relished the thought of having Pelosi remain.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Of course, if House Democrats are willing to sacrifice more of their members in 2012 for the glory of Nancy Pelosi, we are happy to oblige them.”