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Dems Choose House Minority Leader

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House Democrats Elect Pelosi as Leader

Nov. 14

— By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rep. Nancy Pelosi was elected leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives on Thursday, making the 62-year-old California liberal the first woman to head either party in the U.S. Congress.

Pelosi will take over as Democratic minority leader in the new Republican-led Congress that convenes in January, succeeding Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri who held the post since 1995.

"I'm very, very honored," Pelosi said shortly after the vote.

Hers will be the new face and voice of House Democrats as they regroup following their failure in the Nov. 5 congressional elections to end eight years of Republican control of the House.

Pelosi became the highest ranking woman ever in Congress earlier this year when she won the post of House Democratic whip, the party's No. 2 position.

A roar of approval was heard as the unofficial results were announced -- 177 votes for Pelosi and 29 for Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who entered the race on Wednesday, withdrew shortly before Thursday's vote.

Pelosi, the top Democrat to oppose Bush on the Iraqi war powers resolution, argues her party must more aggressively underscore its differences with Republicans on matters ranging from the economy and health care to foreign policy and education.

She rejects suggestions she may be too liberal to lead her party on Capitol Hill.

"I have received an outpouring of support from my colleagues who want to work together to formulate a strong Democratic message," the veteran California congresswoman said before the vote.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland was expected to replace Pelosi as whip, while Robert Menendez of New Jersey was expected to take over as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Menendez would replace Martin Frost of Texas, who after two two-year terms as chairman may not run again. Frost made a bid last week to replace Gephardt as leader, but dropped out and threw his support behind Pelosi.

The House Democratic leadership elections came a day after House Republicans, and Senate Republicans and Democrats re-elected their top three leaders -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Gephardt announced last week he would not run for re-election as Democratic leader in the 108th Congress. His decision came as he mulled a possible 2004 run for the White House.

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