By Russell Berman - 10/29/10 12:28 PM EDT
LAUREL, Md. — Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) could wind up supplanting Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the Democratic House leader in a matter of weeks, but for now, all he has is sympathy for the embattled Speaker.
“She’s hard-working, focused, trying to do things that are good for the American public, and for average working people, and she’s being vilified. I think that’s unfortunate,” Hoyer, the House majority leader, told The Hill as he campaigned in his home district.
Despite his stature in the House, Hoyer has flown under the radar during an election that has featured Pelosi as a lightning rod, with the liberal Speaker drawing criticism from Republicans as well as several conservative Democrats.
Yet Hoyer, a former Pelosi rival who retains close ties to Blue Dogs, stands at the center of several post-election leadership scenarios for Democrats.
With many political analysts predicting a Republican takeover of the House, Hoyer is poised to take the reins of the Democratic Caucus if, as expected, Pelosi steps down in the aftermath of a GOP win.
And even if Democrats retain the House, a narrow path to the Speaker’s office could be opening for Hoyer. A handful of vulnerable Democrats have said they would not vote for Pelosi again, raising the possibility that she would not be elected to another term if the party’s margin is only a few seats.
True to form, Hoyer refuses to entertain any post-election scenarios, leaving no daylight between himself and the Speaker.
“What I’m thinking about is winning this election,” he said. “I believe we’re going to have the majority. I think Nancy Pelosi’s going to be Speaker.”
Asked about reported challenges to his own leadership post, Hoyer laughed and replied: “Let me repeat what I’m saying. I’m focusing on winning the majority.”