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October 20, 2006
Speaker [Fill In The Blank]?

One of the Republican nightmares of these midterm elections can be expressed in two words: Speaker Pelosi. If the GOP loses control of the House, Nancy Pelosi would move from Minority Leader to the Speaker's chair, and assume the third position in line of succession to the Presidency. Republican candidates have spoken about the need to keep the San Francisco Leftist from that position and hope to inspire conservatives to turn out on Election Day to prevent it. However, the Washington Times reports that Democrats might not elect Pelosi as Speaker if they gain a thin majority:

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's prospects for becoming the nation's first female House speaker depend not only on a Democratic victory in November but also on her ability to prevent any Democrats from voting against her -- primarily centrists opposed to her liberal stances.

At least one Democratic House candidate has pledged not to support Mrs. Pelosi, and others in conservative districts have refused to commit their support -- potentially leaving Mrs. Pelosi shy of the 218 votes required for the chamber's top post.

Democrat Charlie Stuart, who hopes to unseat Republican Rep. Ric Keller in Florida, already has said he opposes Mrs. Pelosi and would prefer Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the more conservative No. 2 Democrat in the House whose strained relations with Mrs. Pelosi have been well-chronicled on Capitol Hill.

"He's a centrist," Stuart spokeswoman Sultana Ali said of the Florida Democrat. "His values really are more in line with Steny Hoyer than Nancy Pelosi."

At least three other Democrats contacted by The Washington Times refused to commit their support to Mrs. Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is far more liberal than the districts that are up for grabs in this election.

This seems like a stretch, both on the part of the Democrats contacted by Charles Hurt and by Hurt himself. Pelosi has survived a couple of challenges to her leadership in the past, and these revolts have focused on moving Hoyer to the leadership. However, in order to believe that her position is in serious risk, one would have to believe that Democrats would willingly risk committee chairs and leadership of the House just to jettison Pelosi after she led them to victory in the midterms, assuming that happens.

I've seen this happen before, however, so it's not impossible. When the Republicans took control of the state Assembly briefly in the 1990s, the party celebrated the end of Willie Brown's long speakership. (My uncle, Jim Morrissey, was one of those freshman Republicans, representing Anaheim.) They celebrated too soon, as their one-vote majority disappeared when Brown manipulated one Republican into supporting him. Brown got the last laugh in that session.

However, Denny Hastert isn't Willie Brown, and while that's mostly a good thing, it does mean that Hastert doesn't have the Machiavellian talents necessary to twist Democratic arms into supporting a Republican speaker from the minority party. It seems especially doubtful that Republicans have any hope of derailing Pelosi after a successful election. Hoyer, who just had an embarassing moment in the Maryland Senate race, shouldn't be ordering any new stationery with the Speaker's title anytime soon. And the Democrats might discover that these kinds of disputes look very silly in hindsight when a party fails to win a controlling majority in the election.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 20, 2006 6:06 AM

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