House Democrats have delayed a scheduled vote this week on their leadership team for the incoming Congress — giving some of the lesser-known members of the caucus more time to make their case that the party needs a face-lift in the wake of the general elections.
After Democrats fell far short of predictions, some said they had become too tied to the coasts and lost touch with “flyover states,” which abandoned them last week.
“You saw what happened in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, and those are the kinds of voters we are going to need to take the majority back,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who is pondering a challenge to Nancy Pelosi of California, who is seeking her eighth term as the House Democratic leader. “I think we feel sometimes we are left behind.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, had no such qualms about their leaders. They voted Tuesday to return Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and the rest of their team for another Congress.
“This leadership team is unified. This entire House Republican conference is unified, and we are so eager to get to work with our new president-elect to fix America’s pressing problems,” Mr. Ryan said.
The unity in the Republican Party stands in stark contrast to the soul-searching among Democrats, who no longer have control over any of the political levers of government in Washington, and who also lost more governor’s mansions and state legislatures.
Mrs. Pelosi said the outcome the elections was not an indictment of her leadership in the House. “That speaks to the presidential race,” she said as she raced away from reporters.
In the Senate, Democrats are being pressed to find a leadership role for Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who fired up the party’s liberal wing during the presidential primary race.
Among House Democrats, the decision to postpone a vote was viewed as a strike against the team that has led their party for more than a decade. Mrs. Pelosi, 76, has not faced a serious challenge since she took her leadership post in 2003.
She rose to become the first female speaker of the House after Democrats took control of the chamber in 2007 and oversaw an expanded majority in 2009. But things have since gone south.
Democrats lost control of the House in 2010 and went from holding 256 seats to 193 seats in the chamber since then.
Mrs. Pelosi and other Democrats were confident that they could turn the tide in dramatic fashion this year — so much so that they flirted at times with the idea of picking up the 30 seats they would need to retake the House. But they netted only five.
“We don’t have the House. We don’t have the White House. We don’t have the Senate. We hardly have any governorships,” said Rep. Seth Moulten, a Massachusetts Democrat who supported the delayed vote. “We have a lot to work to do as a caucus and a party.”
Mrs. Pelosi retains significant support, and even though Tim Ryan is considering a challenge, no opponent has officially stepped forward.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio said she signed a letter asking Mrs. Pelosi to keep her job but agreed that certain areas of the country were missing in leadership.
“If you look at who is in the leadership from our region, find me one person,” Ms. Kaptur said. “I signed a letter that the women are signing on her behalf. I have done that, but obviously if someone from our region were to get into the race, I would have to reconsider.”
Tim Ryan said Mrs. Pelosi does not deserve blame for the party’s Election Day fumbles but that the party must carve out a clear economic message that helps them stop their bleeding away of working-class voters and put them on a path to flip control of the House in the next elections.
“We lost those voters, and we have to find a way to get them back in, and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states,” he said.
The race to become leader of the Democratic National Committee also is heating up.
Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota on Monday announced that he was running for the top spot. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who served as DNC chairman from 2005 to 2009, also have signaled interest in the job.