WASHINGTON — As she prepares to turn over her speaker's gavel Wednesday to a Republican, Nancy Pelosi has a rival within her own ranks to lead the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives. She isn't likely to lose that post, however.
North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler will put his own name forward Wednesday as a candidate for House minority leader, continuing his pledge not to support Pelosi.
It's not clear just how much support Shuler will get in what's sure to be a failing effort, but the move continues his work to raise his profile as a conservative voice within the caucus.
Shuler is among several moderate-to-conservative Democrats who blame Pelosi for the party's sweeping losses to Republicans in November. The election decimated the membership of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, of which Shuler is now co-chairman, and saw significant damage among Southern Democrats from Virginia to Texas.
After the election, Shuler ran against Pelosi for minority leader in a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting. Then, he garnered 43 votes.
Although Democratic leaders said they welcome conservative voices in a party known for its "big-tent" philosophy, Shuler said Tuesday that he worries members like him aren't having the impact they should be having in the party.
"There are a number of moderate voices in the House who still feel as though we are not being heard, even after seeing the results of the last election," Shuler said in a statement. "I plan to vote for myself on Wednesday because it sends an important message that, win or lose, I'm going to fight for the voice that I believe represents the majority of Americans."
Republican John Boehner of Ohio will be sworn in Wednesday as the new speaker after the House votes to make that official.
During the vote, each member announces his or her preference by name in a roll call of all 435 House members. Although Boehner will win the speakership, most Democrats, by tradition, are expected to support Pelosi.
In an interview last month, Shuler said he thought moderates could help bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats.
"We can be the conduit between the political parties and move our country forward because we can negotiate between the two," Shuler said.
Bill Sabo, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said last month that Shuler's run against Pelosi mostly helps him back in North Carolina's conservative 10th Congressional District — where GOP ads last fall tried to link him to liberal Pelosi, of California.
"By running against Pelosi, Shuler has the best of both worlds," Sabo said. "He inoculates himself from any kind of similar attacks in the future. He can respond, 'I'm not in Nancy Pelosi's pocket.'"
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington