Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the former speaker of the House, announced Friday that she would seek the minority leader's job, following Tuesday's heavy Democratic losses that cost her party its majority.
Even though she became a favorite Republican campaign target of what's wrong with Washington, the San Francisco lawmaker is expected to win her colleagues' support to try to lead Democrats back to the majority in the House in 2012.
"Driven by the urgency of creating jobs & protecting Social Security & Medicare, I am running for Dem Leader," Pelosi said in a tweet announcing her decision, referring to the new GOP majority's pledge to repeal healthcare and Wall Street reforms.
Democrats who will serve in the new Congress will choose their leaders by secret ballot, probably the week of Nov. 15.
"We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back," Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.
Pelosi, 70, held the less-powerful minority leader's job before becoming the first woman to serve as speaker in 2007. She turns over the gavel in January to her successor, probably Republican John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Republicans were more gleeful than some of Pelosi's fellow Democrats over her decision.
"We welcome her decision to run for House minority leader based on her proven ability to create jobs for Republican lawmakers," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Republican National Committee, which sponsored a nationwide "Fire Pelosi" bus tour during the midterm campaign, unfurled a "Hire Pelosi" banner outside of the party's Washington headquarters Friday.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River), among the Republicans who ran ads attempting to link their Democratic opponent to Pelosi, said, "I think that's what hurt Democrats all over the country." He called her decision "the gift that keeps giving."
A handful of Democrats from conservative districts urged Pelosi not to seek the leadership job.
"I don't get the sense that Speaker Pelosi understands what happened on Tuesday," Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) told CNN. "We lost middle America. The Democratic Party got crushed." He predicted she would win nonetheless.
The White House does not get involved in congressional leadership elections, but Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling on Air Force One with President Obama to India that the president "appreciates the work of the speaker and the entire House Democratic leadership team, who've been great partners in moving the country forward. He looks forward to working with them in years to come."
The Democratic caucus, although smaller, is expected to be closer to the liberal Pelosi, following the defeat of a number of its conservative members. Pelosi also has generated goodwill among her rank and file because of her prodigious campaign fundraising.
"Pelosi is a master vote counter, so she must have the votes to win," said Matthew Green, a political scientist at Catholic University and author of "The Speaker of the House: A Study of Leadership."
"But she is daring a fair number of conservative House Democrats to vote against her, which could exacerbate divisions within her caucus," Green said.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who is not expected to challenge Pelosi, is mulling a bid for the minority party's No. 2 job of whip, possibly setting up a fight with the current whip, James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Pelosi's longtime friend Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said, "The fact is, Nancy Pelosi is the single most effective member of Congress, period.
"She has been attacked and vilified by the right wing because of her effectiveness. But we did not lose seats in this last election because the Republicans attacked her in their negative TV ads," Miller said. "We lost seats primarily because of the 9.6% unemployment rate and continued record foreclosures caused by the worst recession since the Great Depression."
"Nancy's leadership is also an important asset for the people of California," Rep. Doris Matsui (D- Sacramento) said.
Pelosi's decision to stay in leadership could help Obama in trying to work with the Republican majority without alienating the liberal base, said UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain.
"She adds an element of strength to the Democratic front that they may need as they make concessions," he said.