If the Dems Lose, Will Pelosi Stay or Go?

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks about President Obama's speech to Congress during her weekly news conference on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009.

While House Democrats contemplate a possible return to the minority, Nancy Pelosi's future is up in the air. As the first female Speaker, Pelosi had a harder-than-normal climb to the top job and might not be expected to relinquish party leadership automatically. But Hill Democrats hint that she might step down in the event of a GOP takeover, whatever its size.

The key, they note, is how large the Democratic loss turns out to be. If the Democrats lose the House by fewer than a dozen seats, Pelosi would enjoy right of first refusal on the minority leader's job. But if the margin is larger, Pelosi might not have a choice. That would clear the way for her longtime rival and current deputy, Maryland's Steny Hoyer, to step up. Hoyer, a probusiness moderate, would be a harder target for Republicans than Pelosi was. But a bigger loss might provoke an even uglier leadership shake-up. Younger up-and-comers such as Maryland's Chris Van Hollen or Florida's Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be encouraged to challenge the old guard. (Yet both are Pelosi allies, and their ascendance might mean more evolution than revolution.)

It could take weeks or months for lawmakers to choose sides, form coalitions and find a new leader. For now, Pelosi's staff scoffs at the idea that she will be moving on. "It's not even a consideration," says Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's political director. "Democrats will retain the House." But sometimes change comes quickly. After the 2006 blowout, GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert resigned his post immediately and finished out his term in anonymity.