Monday, November 01, 2010

House loss could propel Pelosi into retirement

By Carolyn Lochhead

San Francisco Chronicle

WASHINGTON — The speaker's lobby and its hallways just off the House chamber are hung with portraits of all 51 former speakers: each male, each long gone, some famous, most forgotten: Henry Clay and Joseph Cannon, Tom Foley and Jim Wright, Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert.

Hanging over Tuesday's election is a big question: Will the first woman, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi, join that gallery?

Pelosi's allies, perhaps offering a clue to her thinking, cite the example of legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, who twice lost the majority but came back as speaker a record three times from 1940 until his death in 1961.

If this is the path Pelosi, 70, wants to follow — seeking election as minority leader if Democrats lose the House — it would be a radical break with recent tradition, when Gingrich and Hastert resigned from Congress in the weeks after their party's loss of the House majority.

Many analysts believe Pelosi's political career could end Tuesday. Her national popularity is in the basement. She has become a symbol of Democratic excesses, much like Gingrich once was for Republicans, a radioactive "San Francisco liberal" from whom moderate Democrats in marginal districts are fleeing.

"Chances are that she would not stay in the House; she would resign," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. A special election would be called in San Francisco, and Democrats would clear the way for a "new generation that's stepping up and has the energy and focus to be in the minority," he said.

That is how Pelosi fought her way into the leadership, becoming minority leader in 2002 and winning the speakership in 2006 after demolishing the GOP majority of 12 years.

Pelosi is sticking by her insistence that Democrats will keep their majority. She has made it clear that she intends to remain speaker. What Pelosi has not said is whether she would run for the leadership in the minority.


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