Who's in Charge of the Democratic Caucus? A Field Guide to Leadership Races

After the not-so-stunning losses of the 2010 midterms, Democrats now must decide who will lead their caucus next year, and some influential members are competing for the jobs.

Democrats will vote next Monday, Nov. 15, according to one Democratic member, and one thing so far is almost certain: current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be in charge once again, this time as minority leader.

When a party loses majority in the House, it loses one leadership spot--the job of Speaker disappears--so it will be a crowded race at the top of the Democratic ranks.

As the politicking unfolds, here's a field guide to the leadership spots, who currently inhabits them, and who might inhabit them in January.

How the voting will happen: Essentially, the Democratic caucus will make its own rules, but the votes are expected to be taken by secret ballot at a meeting that will include the newly elected members that took over Republican seats, who will be in town for orientation. Members will likely vote for each position in succession, so if one member loses, he/she can conceivably run for the next slot, seeking to bump an incumbent down in order.

Minority Leader: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is running for this, the head job in the Democratic caucus, though a few had speculated that she perhaps would step aside after the Democrats' midterm losses. The conservative Blue Dog Coalition, weakened after the midterms, is expected to put forth a moderate/conservative challenger to Pelosi, and North Carolina's Heath Shuler has said he would challenge Pelosi if no other viable candidates emerged. Democratic aides do not expect anyone to seriously threaten Pelosi's hold on the top spot. The only member who could conceivably challenge her is Majority Leader Steny Hoyer--and he has not signaled any intent to do so.

Minority Whip: The whip serves a specific function, to tally and gather votes for leadership-backed bills, but its status grows in the rank-order when a party loses power: Having been the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House, Democratic Whip James Clyburn will seek to keep his job, which is second from the top this time around. Current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has mounted a challenge, and this race will be the most hotly contested of any. It will be the center of the action.

Hoyer represents a moderate base of Democrats in the House, and he defeated Pelosi's ally, the late John Murtha, to become Minority Leader in 2006. Discontent moderates, though fewer in number, could deliver a victory to Hoyer, though Clyburn will be difficult to beat, as he'll enjoy the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and members of the House Progressive Caucus. Hoyer, at present, has been saying he has the votes to win, and has been publicizing his endorsees. While this race pits two powerful members against each other, it's apparently remaining as cordial as possible, as the two are friends. Hoyer and Clyburn have already met since the race began. Pelosi is reportedly looking to strike a deal to avoid this contest.

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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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