Shuler wants to challenge Nancy Pelosi–but not yet

Rachel Rose Hartman
November 14, 2010
Heath Shuler stands with Bill Clinton at a campaign event.
Heath Shuler stands with Bill Clinton at a campaign event.

North Carolina Democratic Rep. Health Shuler  confirmed Sunday that he is, in fact, planning to challenge Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House. But the former professional football player stopped short of actually jumping into the race to unseat the California Democrat.

"If it comes down to this coming week and she doesn't step aside, I will challenge her," Shuler said on CNN's "State of the Union."

We've reported on Pelosi's potentially precarious leadership position in the wake of House Democrats' devastating losses at the polls this month. But Pelosi confirmed she wants to keep her job, and ever since her announcement, no Democrats have stepped up to challenge her.

Shuler, a member of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" coalition, conceded that his contracting wing of the party won't have the votes to beat her.

"Over 60 moderates lost" Shuler said. "There's very few numbers of us left."

But Shuler said that keeping Pelosi-- a liberal lightning rod--as the public face of the House Democratic caucus won't help it recoup its losses.  "Moderates have to bring the Congress back together," Shuler said.

Shuler  has repeatedly stressed that he'd prefer for Pelosi to step aside voluntarily, but that scenario isn't likely.

"She's made the declaration," House Whip James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat,   said on State of the Union following Shuler. "I think that we all know she will be a candidate, and as Health Shuler just said, if he were to get in the race, he would not have the votes to be successful."

Democrats will vote on their leadership later this week, when Congress returns to Washington for a lame-duck session. Last week, moderate Democratic Reps. Peter DiFazio of Oregon and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio had asked to postpone the leadership vote--seemingly with the aim of allowing more time for moderates  to gather support--but the party rejected their appeal.

(Photo of Heath Shuler and Bill Clinton: AP/Alan Marler)