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Pelosi Likely to Beat Back Challenges, Remain House Dem Leader

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., waits to speak to supporters at an election night party in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Just over two weeks from Election Day, members and representatives-elect will meet today to elect each party's leadership.

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Democrats will huddle this morning behind closed doors in the Cannon Caucus Room to cast secret ballots for the next Democratic leader, whip, assistant leader and the caucus chair and vice chair.

It is expected that leadership in the 112th Congress will look a lot like leadership in the 111th Congress. In fact, all of the same players are expected to remain on the Democratic side despite losing more than 60 seats and control of the House.

That doesn't sit right with some Democrats. Especially Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), a moderate Blue Dog Democrat and former NFL football player who's launched a longshot challenge against Pelosi for the top leadership slot.

"We've obviously come off the biggest loss that we've had for the Democratic party in almost a century," Shuler said yesterday. "And to go back and put the exact leadership into place is probably not the right thing for our party."

Shuler argues that a moderate should lead the party since it will take electing centrists for Democrats to regain the majority.

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) is also challenging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by leading an effort to strip some of the Democratic Leader's powers, including the ability to appoint the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and heads of the committee that steers Democratic policy initiatives. His concern being that Democrats from middle America aren't represented enough in these positions.

Although Boren says he will vote for Shuler, he says his efforts are not about Pelosi.

"This is not personal," he said. "This is about how our caucus works and how our government runs in the future."

One moderate Democrat who lost reelection said he wished he could stick around to vote for Shuler over Pelosi. Two others asked her to step aside in a Democratic Caucus meeting yesterday.

But the outgoing Democrats don't get a vote and Pelosi is expected to remain the top leader largely because most of the outgoing members are moderates and it's the more liberal members who remain and are loyal to the speaker.

Rep. Steny Hoyer is expected to remain in the number two slot of Democratic Whip.

And James Clyburn will be number three -- assistant leader.

Clyburn originally challenged Hoyer for the whip position, but Pelosi brokered a compromise with him. Getting Clyburn to agree to a newly formed, or tweaked, leadership position and convincing the Congressional Black Caucus that the position had a satisfactory portfolio and a real seat at the leadership table.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks on jobs and the economy at the City Club of Cleveland, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. AP

Republicans will celebrate their party's victory today by electing John Boehner (R-Ohio) to serve as the next speaker of the House and say their chances at making more gains for the party in 2012 are greater with Pelosi leading the Democrats.

The GOP members will gather in the Longworth House office building this afternoon to vote for Boehner. It is also expected they will keep Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as the second in command.

Republicans will likely bring Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has only served two terms, but is credited with successfully recruiting the winning candidates of 2010 known as the "Young Guns" into third most powerful position of whip.

And for the first time, incoming freshman Republicans will vote to elect one of their class to a leadership post. This is Boehner's nod to the power of the 2010 freshman class who attracted not only Tea Party voters, but independents and channeled the anger and concerns of Americans this year.

This is the only true contest at the top of the leadership where rising star Kristi Noem, who is sometimes called the "Sarah Palin of South Dakota," will face Tim Scott, one of two African American Republicans coming to Congress next year who was already tapped by leadership to serve on the GOP Transition Team.

While nearly all of the faces in leadership will be the same when the day ends, the power dynamic will be different as Republicans will now control the floor and the legislative agenda.

But the very first physical sign of this shift will begin right after this lame duck session ends and the movers come to switch out Pelosi and Boehner's offices, change the nameplates on the doors and kick out Democratic Ways and Means and Appropriations Committee Chairmen from their offices just off the House chamber to make way for their Republican counterparts who take those reins next year.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly labeled Democratic Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma.


Jill Jackson is a CBS News Capitol Hill Producer. You can read more of her posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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