Democrat Nancy Pelosi Could Become First Woman to Lead US House of Representatives

If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in the November 7 congressional elections, a Democratic lawmaker from the state of California could become the first woman to become Speaker of the House.

November 8, 2002, the day after the first mid-term Congressional election of the Bush presidency, a little more than a year after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, and just a few months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Democrats had suffered a discouraging loss to Republicans who held on to the House and Senate. Nancy Pelosi was about to become Minority Leader.

The challenge for Democrats, she told reporters, was to unite around a leader able to build coalitions, while drawing a clear contrast with the policies of President Bush and Republicans. "As far as the Republicans are concerned, and the administration, the Democrats must seek our common ground for the good of the American people. But where we do not have our common ground, we must stand our ground," she said.

After the 2002 losses, Democrats were forced to do a lot of soul-searching. In Pelosi's view, the defeat could be attributed to a failure to clearly define their key messages. "If the public does not think that they have received a message, we should get a message from that too. It doesn't mean that we weren't trying to convey one, it doesn't mean that we didn't have one, but if they didn't think they received one we have to be clearer in the future about our distinctions, our differences, between the Democrats and Republicans," he said.

In 2004, Democrats endured another mid-term election defeat, as Republicans again held the House and Senate, and President Bush defeated Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

By then, the war in Iraq was becoming an overriding concern for Americans, and remains so today as Democrats under Pelosi's leadership face brighter prospects, and Republicans fighting for survival in key congressional races.

At 66, Pelosi, who got her first taste of politics as a child in the city of Baltimore, Maryland where her father was mayor, is poised to become the first woman House Speaker, should Democrats prevail on November 7.

Her liberal political background has become fodder for Republican candidates, and for President Bush and others in his administration.

The president made these remarks about Pelosi in a recent appearance for a Republican congressional candidate. "The Speaker of the House, the official third in line for the presidency, would be a congresswoman who voted against renewing the Patriot Act, against creating the Department of Homeland Security, against removing Saddam Hussein from power, against continuing the terrorist surveillance program, and against questioning terrorists in the CIA program. The Speaker would be a congresswoman who has called liberating 25 million Iraqis a grotesque mistake. The Speaker would be a congresswoman who said capturing Osama bin-Laden would not make America any safer," he said.

On the congressional campaign trail, the president, his key political advisor, Karl Rove, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney repeat these allegations almost word for word on a daily basis.

Pelosi, for her part, appears to draw energy from such attacks, attributing her strength as a politician to her upbringing in a politically-active Italian-American family, and her experiences as a mother, grandmother and woman on the political battlefield. "For a woman in politics, it is very important to have a victory that is hard-fought so that no one thinks that just was given to you," she said.

Although Democrat colleagues credit her with clarifying and sharpening their positions, some worry that Pelosi's communication style, often stiff and uncomfortable, gets in the way of the message she tries to deliver.

As the election approaches, there is also concern that Republican attacks portraying her as weak on national security and terrorism, and a big-spending Democrat who favors higher taxes, will harm Democratic candidates.

Pelosi has gone out of her way to emphasize that her potential House speaker ship will not usher in a period of extremist or retaliatory rule by Democrats, even though she would play a key role in determining which Democrat lawmakers receive powerful committee chairmanships.

On calls from some party radicals for impeachment proceedings against President Bush over Iraq pre-war intelligence, she makes clear that won't be on the agenda, saying it would only provide Republicans with precisely the ammunition they need to portray Democrats as politically-vindictive.

If they gain the 15 seats necessary to take control of the House, Pelosi would have to be formally elected House speaker by Democrats. Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, the current House Whip, is in line to become majority leader.

If they prevail, Democrats vow to use their first 100 days in power, to push through legislation that would implement all recommendations of the September 11 Commission, and increase the minimum wage, issues they say Republicans failed to address.

Meanwhile, Republicans are taking daily aim at Pelosi over her positions on the war in Iraq, national security, and the economy, hoping they can remove some of the momentum opinion polls show is currently on the side of Pelosi and Democrats.