Whipping up a Fight

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Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi oversees a meeting in her office on Capitol Hill

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And they both have their eye on bigger jobs. Pelosi is quietly angling to be speaker of the House if the Democrats retake the chamber and Gephardt resigns to run for President in 2004. DeLay is similarly maneuvering for majority leader Dick Armey's job; within 36 hours of Armey's announcement in December that he would retire at the end of this term, DeLay and top lieutenants had phoned all 222 Republican Congressmen to try to lock in their votes.

Both leaders, however, find that deft persuasion often works better than hard-line tactics. Despite the bullwhip he keeps on a window ledge in his Capitol office, DeLay gets his way on most votes by carefully cultivating Republicans. During late-night sessions, Republicans crowd into his office to chat and munch on barbecue or pizza; Pelosi served Chinese takeout to Democrats in her office during midnight votes on campaign-finance reform in February and assembled a task force of 100 members to beat back more than a dozen amendments that DeLay had designed to sink the measure. "I threw everything I could think of at her," DeLay said, "and she handled it very well."

The fight for control of the House will be just as intense. In 2000, G.O.P. candidates handily outraised Democrats and flooded the airwaves with more ads, but many saw their leads evaporate on Election Day when union workers swarmed door to door to get out the Democratic vote. During a party retreat in West Virginia last January, DeLay handed out packets marked stomp, for Strategic Taskforce to Organize and Mobilize People. It outlines a campaign to spend millions of dollars busing volunteers from safe congressional districts to ones where Republicans face a fight.

Because Pelosi and DeLay represent the hard-core loyalists in their party, they can be polarizing figures. "You can't take Pelosi to every district, and you can't take DeLay to every district," admits Davis. Both have been called vindictive. Pelosi gave $10,000 to the primary opponent of the powerful Democratic Congressman John Dingell, who backed Hoyer in the race for whip. "That was dumb," says a senior House Democratic aide. DeLay has lately tried to tone down his bulldog image. At the party's January retreat, he staged a comedy skit, putting on a gray wig and pretending to take media lessons so he would "project a kinder, gentle face." With Pelosi as a foe, however, he had better make sure his inner bulldog is still hungry.

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