Heath Shuler for Speaker! ... Heath Shuler for Speaker?

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If nobody else challenges Nancy Pelosi for the job of House Speaker, Heath Shuler says he'll do it himself.

Via The Hill's Jordan Fabian, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the North Carolina Democrat said during a radio debate with Republican challenger Jeff Miller that, "If there is no viable alternative" to Pelosi, he will run.

The Citizen-Times reports:

Early on, Shuler said, "If there is no viable alternative (to Pelosi), I will be running for speaker of the house."

Near the end of the debate, Miller, who has chastised Shuler in television ads for voting with Pelosi, perceived as one of the more liberal members of house, pressed Shuler for clarification.

"You're saying you would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker?" Miller said.

"If that's the alternative, I will be voting for myself," Shuler said.

"If she's there you wouldn't vote for her; you'd vote for yourself?" Miller shot back.

"I don't know how I can be any clearer," Shuler replied. "I can do as good a job as anybody in the U.S. Congress, because I can actually bring people together."

Afterward, Miller said, "That's the first time I've heard him be that firm about it."

All of this rests on the premise the Democrats have retained control of the House on November 3, which election prognosticators think is unlikely.

Shuler entered the House in 2006 as part of the Democratic wave, taking over a district in Western North Carolina that had been represented for eight terms by Republican Charles Taylor, a former tree farmer, and had voted 57 percent and 58 percent for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

A former NFL quarterback with the Washington Redskins, Democrats touted Shuler as a prized candidate in 2006--an example of the broadened Democratic coalition ushered in by the Iraq war, GOP ethics scandals, and the leadership of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Shuler is now a prominent member of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, serving as the coalition's whip.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll at the beginning of the month showing Shuler ahead of Miller by 15 percentage points. A Civitas Institute poll in August showed the two candidates in a dead heat.

Pelosi has drawn fire from Republican campaigns across the country this year, as Republicans use images of her in ads and attack Democrats for voting with her, particularly on health care reform and cap-and-trade.

As a result, some Democrats have run away from their association with Democratic leadership--but perhaps none so brazenly as Shuler.

Shuler is the second North Carolina Democrat this month to make a comment undermining Pelosi's future as Speaker of the House.

A week and a half ago, Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) told a radio station that he'd heard Pelosi would "probably not" run for Speaker. Pelosi's office, responding to that assertion, assured reporters that Pelosi does intend to run for Speaker again.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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