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Inside Politics

Democrats pick Pelosi as House leader

California Democrat first woman to lead either party in Congress

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, emerges from a meeting of House Democrats Thursday, after her election as minority leader.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, emerges from a meeting of House Democrats Thursday, after her election as minority leader.

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Born:  March 26, 1940, age 62

Family: Married Paul Pelosi; five grown children; five grandchildren

Political Career: Elected House minority leader; first woman to lead either party in Congress.

Represents 8th District, California (San Francisco)

First elected in 1987; never lost an election 

House minority whip in 107th Congress

Ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee

Education: Trinity College, Washington, undergraduate degree in political science, 1962

Quote: "What the Democrats will do, working together, is to build consensus around an economic growth message. And that will be right down the center, so its not about contrast right to left. It's about a message for economic growth."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a history-making move, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, was elected House minority leader by Democrats Thursday, becoming the first woman to lead either party in Congress.

"I didn't run as a woman," said Pelosi, a liberal who represents San Francisco. "I ran again as a seasoned politician and experienced legislator. It just so happens that I am a woman, and we have been waiting a long time for this moment."

Emerging from the caucus room to applause, Pelosi promised to invigorate Democratic voters and to seek "common ground" with Republicans in the fight against terrorism, the economy and other issues. But, she added, where there are differences with the GOP, "We will put up the fight."

Pelosi, 62, launched her campaign for the minority leader's post last week after Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, announced that he would step aside, following Democratic losses in the midterm elections.

Pelosi, re-elected easily last week to her ninth term in the House, faced a challenge for the leadership post from Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio dropped out of the race Thursday morning, and Pelosi -- minority whip in the 107th Congress -- defeated Ford by a 177-29 vote, taken behind closed doors.

Elegant and poised, Pelosi has won friends in the House both for her personable manner and her fund-raising skills, where she has raised money for other Democrats in the House. She is a reliable liberal vote in the House. She voted recently against the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and has consistently supported gay rights and opposed efforts to criminalize abortion.

Pelosi is the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and she also serves on the House Appropriations Committee, two influential panels. She now faces the challenge of organizing a party shaken by the elections and facing a popular Republican president in the White House. She called her selection by her colleagues "a staggering honor."

Married and the mother of five grown children, Pelosi is a Baltimore native and the daughter of a one-time mayor there.

Some Republicans have expressed glee at the prospect of a Democrat from what is arguably the country's most liberal city leading the party, believing Pelosi is out of touch with most Americans.

Pelosi dismissed the criticism.

"It's kind of an old thing," she said. "In California, we think in entrepreneurial and fresh ways about every issue, and if it comes down one side to the right or left of center, so be it."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, struck a diplomatic note Wednesday, saying he looked forward to working with Pelosi. But he also hinted that Republicans won't be shy about highlighting Pelosi's ideology.

"I think Nancy will call herself a San Francisco liberal," Hastert said. "So I don't think that's a problem."

In other Democratic leadership races, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland was elected to replace Pelosi as whip and Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey narrowly won the post of chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He defeated Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut by a vote of 104-103. Menendez becomes the highest-ranking Hispanic in congressional history. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was elected vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

House Republicans chose their leadership Wednesday, re-electing Hastert as speaker and elevating Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, from whip to majority leader. Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt took DeLay's spot as House majority whip.

"We're worthy opponents," DeLay said of the respective leadership teams.

The 108th Congress convenes in January.

--CNN Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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