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Updated: November 6, 2010 13:25 IST

Pelosi will seek to stay as House Democrats leader

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In this November 2, 2010 file photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., waits to speak in Washington. Ms. Pelosi says she will try to keep her Democratic leadership post despite massive election losses that cost her party the House majority. AP.
In this November 2, 2010 file photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., waits to speak in Washington. Ms. Pelosi says she will try to keep her Democratic leadership post despite massive election losses that cost her party the House majority. AP.

The first top woman Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives has said she wishes to continue to lead her party as leader despite its big losses in the mid-term polls.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to lead the House of Representatives, said she will try to stay on as leader of House Democrats, despite widespread complaints about massive losses that will put Barack Obama’s party in the minority.

The decision exposed a rift between Pelosi’s liberal allies and the dwindling number of moderate Democrats, who feel besieged and eager for substantive and symbolic changes in direction after Tuesday’s Republican rout, fuelled by voter discontent amid a struggling economy. It also is likely to trigger leadership battles farther down the ladder.

Democrats narrowly retained control of the Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid eked out a victory over in Nevada, avoiding the dubious distinction of becoming the first sitting majority leader to lose his seat since the 1950s.

Ms. Pelosi said on Friday that many colleagues urged her to seek the post of minority leader in the new Congress that convenes in January. That will be the Democrats’ top post, because Republicans, who grabbed more than 60 Democratic—held seats on Tuesday, will elect the next speaker. It will be John Boehner of Ohio, who will swap titles with Ms. Pelosi if she succeeds in her bid.

“We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back,” Ma. Pelosi, 70, said in a letter to her colleagues.

Republicans piled up the biggest gains in the House in over 70 years, while the Democrats will preside over the lower chamber for the shortest period since the 1950s.

Allies said Ms. Pelosi would not make the bid unless she felt she had the votes. Some cautioned, however, that House members vote by secret ballot when electing the leaders of their respective parties at the start of each new Congress. Ms. Pelosi’s caucus is more heavily liberal now that many moderate Democrats lost on Tuesday, but even some Pelosi admirers are distressed by the magnitude of the losses.

Several moderates, and even some long-time Pelosi supporters, had openly criticized her in their re—election campaigns, and had urged her to step aside. Ms. Pelosi’s Friday announcement caught some off guard.

Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly said he was “disappointed that Speaker Pelosi is going to seek the position of Minority Leader.” Rep. Larry Kissell’s office said he hopes Ms. Pelosi “will change her mind and step aside.”

They were among the many House Democrats whom Republicans criticized for their loyalty to the California liberal, who was a forceful though generally well—liked speaker. During her four years as Speaker, Ms. Pelosi used all her political muscle to enact contentious measures such as President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

In a statement, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the president appreciates the work of Ms. Pelosi and the Democratic leadership team “who have been great partners in moving the country forward” and he looks forward to working with them.

Ms. Pelosi’s bid presumably will keep her atop the Democratic caucus, which will number about 190 members next year. But it would mark a big drop from being speaker, which carries tremendous power to influence legislation and is second only to the vice-president in the line of presidential succession.

Several Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts had vowed to oppose Ms. Pelosi as speaker, but some of them lost their re—election bids all the same.

One survivor, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, had said he might challenge Ms. Pelosi because the party needs a more moderate leader.

As the magnitude of Tuesday’s election losses sunk in, even some long-time supporters of Ms. Pelosi said she needed to step aside as the party leader.

“I voted for everything she asked me to vote for,” said Democratic Rep. Albio Sires. “You know, sometimes in this business it’s difficult to know when to move on.”

“With all the losses that we had with governors and all the redistricting that’s going to be done, we don’t need the target,” Mr. Sires said, referring to the once—a—decade House redistricting process about to begin nationwide.

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