As House Democrats cast about Thursday for an alternative to Nancy Pelosi for speaker, one name kept popping up — Rep. Cheri Bustos.
Her name was called out four times in the House chamber during a roll-call vote to elect a new speaker, more than any other name offered up by the 15 Democrats who protested returning the gavel to Mrs. Pelosi.
The popularity of Mrs. Bustos, while not enough to pose a serious threat to the caucus’ longtime chieftain, cemented the Illinois Democrat’s status as a rising star in her party.
“She represents the future of our party and what new leadership is going to look like,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey Democrat and one of the four freshman members who voted for Mrs. Bustos.
Mrs. Sherrill’s vote for Mrs. Bustos stemmed from admiration and from her pledge to voters in the Republican-leaning district that she would not back Mrs. Pelosi.
“I made a commitment to that,” said Mrs. Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot.
The other Democrats bucking Mrs. Pelosi for Mrs. Bustos were Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
Mrs. Bustos’ fans in the Democrat caucus — many more than four — say she’s poised to someday ascend to speaker.
The votes she garnered Thursday bested such figures as former Vice President Joe Biden, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Marsha Fudge, who was consider the most likely challenger until she was co-opted by Mrs. Pelosi.
They all got one vote.
The only other alternative who received more than one vote was Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She got two votes.
Other protest votes went to defeated George governor candidate Stacey Abrams, Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts and Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida.
Three House Democrats voted present, including freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who voted “no” before his vote was converted to present.
On the other side of the aisle, six House Republicans defected from the vote to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy as minority leader. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio received five votes, and Rep. Thomas of Kentucky got one.
Mrs. Bustos will not be without a leadership role in the 116th Congress. She began her fourth term as the head of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, which is charged with helping elect Democrats and retain the majority won in 2018.
The job can be expected to expand her base of support in the caucus as she leads fundraising efforts. But it also will put her in the center of the struggle between the party’s establishment and far-left factions.
“I know how to protect this House. I know how to build this House,” Mrs. Bustos said when she won the post in November.