Pelosi’s fate up in the air

Former speaker unsure if she will maintain leadership role

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But at 73, the Maryland lawmaker may face challenges from some rising stars in the caucus such as Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Budget Committee, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Asked whether the two younger Democrats would consider challenging Mr. Hoyer, the Democratic strategist said, “I have no idea”

If President Obama is re-elected and Republicans retain control of the House, another scenario is for Mrs. Pelosi to remain in her minority leader role for a few months before stepping down, a move that would give her time to work with the president on major tax and spending legislation needed to avoid a looming “fiscal cliff.”

And if Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney wins and his party keeps the House, Mrs. Pelosi may feel compelled to remain minority leader for another two years to fight GOP attempts to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care reforms — legislation close to her heart.

Yet if Democrats fail for the second congressional election to win the House, there likely will be at least some rumblings in her caucus for fresh blood at the top, as retaining the same leadership team would be a harder sell this time around.

“Inside the caucus, there are some real concerns about the direction the leadership has taken us,” the Democratic strategist said. “Not that they’re doing a bad job — I think people feel that everyone really came together this Congress. But they’re older, and there is a sense that the current leadership has been there for years.”

Still, if Mrs. Pelosi was retained as minority leader, it wouldn’t be without precedent. Former Reps. Joseph W. Martin, Jr., a Massachusetts Republican, and Sam Rayburn, Texas Democrat, each flipped between speaker and minority leader several times during the mid-20th century.

And James Beauchamp Clark, a Missouri Democrat, was speaker for several years before his party lost control of the House in 1919, when he was elected minority leader for one term.

More recently, Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, remained House minority leader for four successive terms in the 1990s and early 2000s despite losing elections when his party was expected to seriously challenge for control of the chamber.

“It isn’t the sort of thing you see in some [foreign] parliamentary systems where you lose [an election] and you’re sort of morally obligated to step down,” said Barbara Sinclair, a political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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