Cliff Owen/AP Photo
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It goes without saying that if Democrats lose control of the House following next Tuesday's mid-term election, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the former speaker.
But it's also possible that even if her House Democrats manage to hold onto enough of those marginal seats to keep her party in the majority, she may still be out as speaker.
Pelosi has been one of the most paradoxical political leaders in recent memory.
She has been one of the most formidable speakers in her ability to get votes for her agenda, whether it was for her campaign to be speaker in the first place or her ability to collect enough votes to secure passage of the health-care legislation.
But her reputation as a San Francisco liberal also became a severe liability for many House Democrats, especially those in Republican-leaning congressional districts, some of whom campaigned against her as though she were a member of the opposition party.
Thus, the stage is set for the possible end, brief as it seems, of the Pelosi era, a conclusion which would be as historic in its way as the start of it was in 2007 when she became the first woman speaker.
As Politico.com reported:
The more intriguing question is: What if Democrats retain control with a very slim margin, say, less than a dozen seats? This is the best possible result Democrats can hope for in this terrible political environment. Nearly a half-dozen moderate-to-conservative Democrats are on the record saying they would oppose her for speaker, and a dozen more have suggested they might do the same. This is a serious threat, given her unpopularity and centrality in so many campaigns.
So Pelosi could be a goner either way. But — and this is a very important but — Pelosi is the most powerful Democrat in Congress, beloved by liberals, feared by critics and respected by many moderates for her political agility. She could easily harness the euphoria of a better-than-expected outcome to protect her job. And remember, women dominate the Democratic Party base, so is the party really going to toss aside the most powerful woman in the history of U.S. politics because a few Southern men don't like her?
Norm Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, suggested on NPR's Diane Rehm Show Monday that one possible outcome is that a conservative Blue Dog Democrat could make a play for the speakership if Democrats manage to cling to the majority. That could happen if Republicans, empowered by a significant pickup of seats, throw their weight behind a Blue Dog.
Meanwhile, the expectation is that if Democrats fall into the minority, now House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer would become the minority leader.
There'll be plenty of time for post-mortems on Pelosi's speakership if it comes to that and we'll certainly have our share of them here if it comes to that.
But it's important to keep in mind that the election hasn't happened yet. As Pelosi has repeatedly proved, as during the health-care debate, it's probably a bad idea to ever count her out.