Pelosi’s Team to Seek 2nd Term

No Challenge to Democratic House Leaders Expected

Posted January 27, 2004 at 6:16pm

While publicly keeping quiet about their plans for the 109th Congress, the top four House Democratic leaders privately are planning bids for re-election to their respective posts.

Senior Democratic aides confirm Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.), all entering the second year of their initial terms in those positions, are quietly laying the groundwork to stand again. Leadership elections are about a year away, after the November general elections but before the beginning of the next Congress.

“Pelosi, Hoyer, Menendez and Clyburn are running again,” insisted one leadership aide. “Since their attention has been and continues to be on promoting and pushing the Democratic agenda and winning a majority, they have probably not formally announced their intention[s].”

Several leadership aides said they expect the leaders will run as a four-person ticket and are likely to assume their second two-year terms by acclamation. With that in mind, none of the current leaders has done much to plot a specific re-election strategy, nor have they put together plans for public campaign announcements, those same sources indicated.

Leadership aides also said they don’t anticipate the four top Democrats, who are enjoying widespread support, will draw opponents even if the minority party fails to make gains in November.

“I can’t imagine any challenges at this point,” said one well-placed Democratic staffer, adding that even if Democrats net losses in the 2004 elections, the Caucus will be forgiving after just one term.

If anyone, Pelosi would be most vulnerable under that scenario, sources said, although even her detractors are likely to give her some time to take back the House. Her predecessor, Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), led Democrats for eight years in the minority and stepped down only after he decided to seek the presidency.

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.), who challenged Pelosi for leader heading into the 108th Congress, appears to be concentrating on a possible Senate run if Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) retires in 2006.

Of course, winning back control in November would most certainly launch Pelosi even higher — landing her the Speaker’s gavel — but the political outlook is not in her party’s favor. Campaign watchers generally agree that too few seats will be competitive to give the Democrats the chance to earn a majority.

Pelosi has publicly stated her intention to be the first female Speaker, but in a recent interview, she brushed aside talk of her plans for next year.

“I am interested in there being a Democratic Speaker of the House,” Pelosi said. “I’m interested in winning back the House for Democrats. I don’t spend any time thinking about” a second term.

Pelosi said a Democratic House would translate into gains for the entire Caucus, including chairmanships for ranking members, not just those at the top. She added, however, that if “I do a good job and we win, there will be a great deal of appreciation to go around.”

But while Pelosi deflects questions about another term leading the party, one leadership aide said plainly that Pelosi has been successful in her first term and is planning on running again: “She has worked very hard to unite us, to raise money and people are pleased with that.

“She will want to continue that work as Speaker or Democratic leader next year,” the aide added.

Even in moderate Democratic circles, Pelosi is getting decent reviews, and aides insist she isn’t likely to face opposition after just one term. Any politically conservative Member who would even consider challenging her is more concerned about his or her “own skin” in a Bush re-election year than a leadership bid, said one senior aide to a moderate Member.

“There’s definitely not an outcry,” said the staffer. “Nobody’s calling for anybody’s head. Nobody has a problem with Hoyer. And generally, Nancy is doing a better job than they thought she would.”

“There’s an almost 100 percent chance she wouldn’t be kicked out,” added another senior-level Democratic aide, explaining that she enjoys broad support and a moderate or conservative Member “wouldn’t stand a chance” against her after just one term.

A series of uncontested elections for the 109th Congress would present a stark contrast from a year ago when the Democratic Caucus faced several interesting races in addition to Pelosi’s overwhelming defeat of Ford.

Menendez topped Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) for Caucus chairman by just one vote, and Clyburn defeated Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Gregory Meeks (N.Y.). Hoyer was unopposed in his bid for Minority Whip.