The Democrats in the United States House of Representatives endured an historic drubbing in the recent election. They lost more than 60 seats, and in the process they lost their majority. Now they are trying to decide who should serve as the leaders of the significantly diminished caucus that will be seated when the new Congress begins its work in 2011.
Soon to be former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has surprised many people by saying she will seek the position of Minority Leader. Some surviving House Democrats, however, seem to be saying: “Not so fast!” They want some time to pass before a new Minority Leader is named, perhaps hoping that a credible challenger to Pelosi emerges.
It is not surprising to me that two of the Democrats who appear to be looking for alternatives to Pelosi are from Ohio. They know, first hand, how poorly Pelosi plays in the heartland. It probably was a blunder for House Democrats to select as their Speaker a politician who serves the ultra-liberal enclaves of San Francisco in a safe seat immune from the pressure felt by Democrats in swing states like Ohio — but it would be a disaster if they stuck with Pelosi as leader after the results of this past election. Pelosi’s liberal views were a campaign issue in a number of races, and I think many voters in Ohio and elsewhere believed that their votes for Republican candidates were a repudiation of Pelosi and her position on the issues. For Democrats to ignore that message and return Pelosi to a leadership position would be to thumb their noses at middle America and risk being led down a progressive path to electoral perdition. The situation will be even worse if California experiences the crippling budget crisis that many believe will occur in the next few months and Pelosi is an advocate for a federal bailout of The Golden State. Such an event would confirm the Republicans’ argument that Democrats are a fiscally irresponsible bunch who never met a bailout they didn’t like.
Pelosi, secure in her safe San Francisco seat, probably does not care what middle America thinks. She believes that she knows what is best for the country and will pursue it regardless of what the election results may be. The battered survivors of the House Democratic bloodbath on November 2, 2010, however, do not have that luxury.