As Democrats lose House, Nancy Pelosi's historic reign as speaker ends

Speaking to a crowd of volunteers in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats have taken the country in a new direction since they gained control, and that the party will continue to fight for the middle class.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 12:54 AM

Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in American politics, lost her job as speaker of the House on Tuesday as voters delivered a sharp rebuke to the party she helped lead.

Her steely manner and the progressive policies she championed made her a favorite target for resurgent Republicans nationwide. Pelosi's face appeared in more GOP attack ads than any other Democrat, including President Obama.

Pelosi had seized upon a rare Democratic alignment across government to orchestrate deals that she saw as historic and remarkable, but which seemed intrusive and ideological to a broadening swath of the U.S. electorate.

In the end, it cost her the powerful gavel.

All day Tuesday, Pelosi was relentlessly upbeat. She appeared before cameras with three young grandchildren and told reporters: "We're on pace to maintain the majority."

Even in confidence, friends said, Pelosi never betrayed any doubt. "I have never seen that moment," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). "She's never let up. She's never given up the faith."

And as she stood before a a few hundred supporters Tuesday night, as some races were being called and placed her job in jeopardy, she gave no indication that she really believed the House was about to shift in a devastating voter repudiation of her leadership.

"We are not going back to the failed policies of the past. We are fighting for the middle class," Pelosi, in a white pantsuit and silver pearls, said with a constant smile.

She walked off stage to the strains of Tina Turner ("You're simply the best . . .") after a four-minute speech, in which she did not declare that her party would retain the majority. Perhaps she simply forgot. Or perhaps she knew what the night would bring.

"The speaker has said, as long as I've known her, in politics and certainly in Washington, D.C., everything is perishable," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a confidant.

In the end, Pelosi was a speaker who couldn't speak up for herself. In the final run-up to a midterm election that she knew could be a dramatic rebuke, Pelosi rarely campaigned in public. She shuttled between private fundraisers and then hunkered down with strategists in Washington, largely out of sight of an angry and angsty American electorate - except in the barrage of ads airing every day all across the nation.

But Pelosi was always in the fight. She rose early in the mornings to study polls and turnout projections. She helped decide which Democrats got national party funding and which were cut short. She knew how to appeal to donors, to encourage candidates, to say difficult things to difficult people.

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