Nancy Pelosi is running for House Democratic leader. Is that a mistake?

Nancy Pelosi, a favorite target of the GOP, has been criticized by Democratic moderates and progressives alike. Her move runs the risk of splitting her party. So why is she doing it?

Alex Brandon/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., takes the stage to speak to supporters at an election night party in Washington, on Nov. 2.

Nancy Pelosi says she wants to stay on as the leader of House Democrats. Is that a mistake?

It’s a question that has to be asked. After all, as speaker, Representative Pelosi presided over an historic electoral disaster for her party. Democrats lost a thumping 60 seats and their House majority. Because of this Pelosi in essence is applying for a lower-level position after her previous job was eliminated. She’d be House minority leader in the next Congress – a big demotion from speaker.

Her continued presence might split her own party. Many moderate House Democrats likely would prefer their next leader to be the current No. 2 in the party hierarchy, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, instead of the more liberal Pelosi. Even a few liberals might gripe. The left wing of the party has accused Pelosi of not pushing hard enough for such progressive goals as a public option in the health-care reform legislation.

Plus, she’ll provide a convenient target for Republicans. “Fire Pelosi” was a catchphrase the GOP used to help nationalize many individual House races. Now Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, will get to craft new attack slogans that contain her well-known name.

Steele applauded when told of Pelosi’s intentions.

“My breath is taken away by that announcement,” he said, grinning, according to the Associated Press.

One thing is pretty sure, though – Pelosi won’t lose. She’s a shrewd vote counter and knows her own caucus. She would not publicly announce such a run only to be defeated by restive colleagues. Plus, a good number of the Democratic House moderates who oppose her lost.

It doesn’t seem likely Rep. Hoyer will run against her. He’s said to be contemplating whether to run for the second-ranking post in the minority House lineup. The current No. 3, House Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, has already said he’ll try for the second-ranking spot (which will be called “minority whip.” Don’t try to sort the nomenclature out; it’s too confusing).

So why is she doing it? Maybe she wants another ending. Two years is a lifetime in politics. In 2012 she could be restored to the speakership, and the career of the first woman to run the House could have a different coda.

Plus, she likely wants to protect what she sees as her legacy. During her time in the speaker’s chair she presided over the passage of mammoth health-care reform legislation, and a bill intended to curb Wall Street’s excesses, among other things. Perhaps she does not think other possible Democratic House leaders would fight as hard as she will against Republican efforts to repeal or amend these bills.

Pelosi canvassed Democrats before she made her announcement. She says many urged her to run. Her office released letters from a number of such supporters.

“We’re in a political storm, but we don’t need to adopt an ‘any leader in a storm’ mentality, said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois in his letter.

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