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Rep. Heath Shuler says he'll likely challenge Nancy Pelosi for leadership post

Shuler, of North Carolina, says he'll probably run for minority leader even though 'there's no way I can win. But I'm going to take a stand for every moderate Democrat in America.'

November 15, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — While admitting that his prospects for victory are slim, North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler says he's likely to follow through on a campaign pledge to challenge Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the Democratic House caucus, claiming the San Francisco congresswoman is too liberal.

Shuler, first elected in 2006, survived a tough race in 2010 during which his Republican opponent, like Republican challengers nationwide, turned Pelosi into a political punching bag. The former quarterback of the Washington Redskins pledged that if reelected, he would consider challenging her if she sought a third term as speaker of the House.

Shuler, who won a second term in 2008 by a 26-percentage-point margin, won this year by eight percentage points.

Democrats have since lost their majority in the House — at least 60 seats total, with others still outstanding. But Pelosi surprised some in Washington by saying she planned to run for the post of minority leader in the new 112th Congress.

Now, during a media tour, Shuler says that it would be a mistake to again tap Pelosi as the party's leader, particularly if Democrats want to win back some of the seats they lost earlier this month.

"We've just come off the largest … loss for the Democratic Party in almost a century. And to be able to put Speaker Pelosi as minority leader is truly — it's unacceptable for our party, to move our party forward in a moderate direction," he told CNN's Joe Johns on Sunday on "State of the Union."

Democrats are set to vote on leadership positions this week. Shuler said he hoped that, once the caucus reconvened in Washington, Pelosi and others would see "that we need to go in a different direction."

"This is a long-shot to even come close," he said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "There's no way I can win. But I'm going to take a stand for every moderate Democrat in America."

Shuler says it would be difficult to recruit strong candidates if Pelosi is still at the helm of the party. He credited the party's initial takeover of the House in 2006 to former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who then served as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It was Emanuel, Shuler said, who expanded the Democrats' "big tent."

Shuler's assessment of his own chances is likely spot-on. Many of the Democrats who lost Nov. 2 represented conservative districts, and were members of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" coalition. More liberal members in safer seats survived the Republican wave.

A tally by the Washington tipsheet The Hotline lists only 19 Democrats who have said publicly that they would oppose Pelosi's election as minority leader, roughly 10% of the diminished caucus.

mmemoli@tribune.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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