Nancy Pelosi, other Dem leaders may step down if GOP wins big 

Publicly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her aides are refusing to discuss the topic of Democrats losing control of the House but behind the scenes, there is discussion that she may resign not just her leadership position but also her San Francisco-area seat after having served in the very powerful position of speaker.

It’d be hard not to blame Pelosi for making that decision. After having had it all in the House–including being one of two main architect of the health insurance law commonly called Obamacare–going back to being a member of the minority, even if she’s still the Democratic leader.

Her Republican predecessor, Dennis Hastert, said earlier this month that even if Democrats manage to maintain their majority, he doesn’t think Pelosi will be able to maintain her post.

“I think even if the Democrats win, which I don’t think they’ll win, I don’t think Nancy Pelosi will be speaker,” Hastert in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

That prediction may be off even though a handful of Democrats say they will vote against her should she run, simply because there aren’t a lot of members willing to go up against her. Her current deputy, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, says he won’t run ever challenge her again after she defeated him in a bitter contest for minority leader in 2001.

There’s one scenario where Pelosi might stick around, however:

Some Democrats caution that Pelosi’s approach hinges — in the words of one Democratic lobbyist — on whether “this is a wave or this is a tsunami.” If Republicans seize a narrow majority, Pelosi could have more of an incentive to stay in leadership, perhaps in part to lay the groundwork for winning back the House in 2012.

If Democrats find themselves within striking distance of reclaiming the majority, “the Democratic Caucus may demand she stay put,” the former House Democratic leadership staffer said.

But if Democrats suffer heavier losses, Members may turn to the Caucus’ No. 2, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), to unify them.

Pelosi may not be the only high-ranking Democrat to willingly or unwillingly quit a leadership post:

Other Democrats are sure to follow Pelosi out of the Capitol. After the GOP lost the House in 2006, 27 Republicans called it quits. But in the case of Pelosi’s Democratic cloakroom, the exodus could be deeper: five of the 20 current committee chairmen are her allies from California. Without their champion, some veterans such as Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller, who has been in Congress since 1975, may be inclined to leave. Even if they don’t head for the exits, they might choose to abandon their gavels: Standards Committee chair Zoe Lofgren, also of California, is serving at Pelosi’s request and has made no secret of her distaste at being her colleagues’ ethical watchdog. (See the rising stars of American politics in “40 Under 40.”)

Others are older — Rules Committee chair Louise Slaughter and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, both 81, know that life in the minority holds less appeal for octogenarians. And, in any case, it might be time for some fresh blood. The average age of Democratic House chairs is nearly 70, while top Republicans are, on average, a decade younger — thanks, in part, to the 2006 spate of retirements. Democratic chairs have spent an average of 13.5 terms, or 27 years, in office, compared to Republicans who average 9.5 terms, or 19 years, in office.

Two chairmen have already retired: Appropriations Committee chief David Obey of Wisconsin and Tennessee’s Bart Gordon, the top Dem on the Science and Technology Committee. Both seats look likely to fall into GOP hands next week.

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Matthew Sheffield

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