If Democrats Lose the House, Will Nancy Pelosi Retire?

Parsing the House Speaker's political future

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With Republicans poised to retake the House of Representatives after tomorrow's midterm elections, speculation has turned to a much more uncertain topic: the political future of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Will the 70-year-old Pelosi seek a leadership position in the minority, or follow the path of immediate predecessors Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, both of whom resigned from Congress in the days after their party lost control of the House? A variety of opinions from around the web:

  • Radioactive  The depth of voters' distaste for Pelosi could make it difficult for Democrats to keep her on in a leadership position, writes MSNBC's First Read politics blog. "Pelosi’s fav/unfav among registered voters in the poll is 24%-50% (and 8%-61% among indies). That's compared with Obama’s 47%-42% and George W. Bush’s 32%-51%." The message is unmistakable. "Voters are saying: We want to fire Pelosi and send a message to Obama to make some changes."
  • Hanging In?  There's no telling what the political landscape will look like Wednesday morning, concedes the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead, but Pelosi--or at least those close to her--are quick to note a return is not unprecedented. "Pelosi's allies, perhaps offering a clue to her thinking," writes Lochhead, "cite the example of legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, who twice lost the majority but came back as speaker a record three times from 1940 until his death in 1961."
  • Or Heading Out? Kathleen Hunter of CG Politics says that while those inside Pelosi's inner-circle may be talking up a return, outside observers are steeling themselves for her departure. "The prevailing view among those outside Pelosi's inner circle is that her tenure as Democratic leader would, by her own choice, be short-lived if her party ends up back in the minority." Though Pelosi would "likely have a lock on the [Minority Leader] post" if she pursued it, Hunter writes 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."
  • No Reason To Stay In an interview with Shep Smith, Fox's Juan Williams argues there's no incentive for Pelosi to stay in Washington if Democrats lose the House. "She doesn’t really have any ambition to be President, so what would she be hanging around for?" asked Williams rhetorically. "She’s extremely wealthy. She doesn’t need it."

  • No Shortage Of Opportunities Time's Jay Newton-Small notes that previous speakers have used retirement to "drop off the map (Denny Hastert, Jim Wright), hover in political circles (Newt Gingrich), write a book (Tip O'Neill), or lark off an am ambassadorial adventure (Tom Foley)." Newton-Small believes this last option--or some variation thereof--could prove enticing. "Personally, I think she'd make a fabulous ambassador to Italy. Or her old friend Jerry Brown, if he wins back the governor's mansion, might co-opt her for a California project. Whether she stays on as Speaker or retires, I don't think this is the last we've heard of Pelosi."
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