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Posted at 8:01 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Democrats' defection from Pelosi is historic

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

How divided are Democrats' right now?

With 19 Democrats withholding support from Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Wednesday, it represented the largest defection from a party's speaker nominee in nearly a century.

The resistance in the Democratic Party to back now-former Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the ceremonial first vote of the 112th Congress registered higher than at any point since 1913, according to data from the Congressional Research Service.

That year, which happens to be the last year for which records are available, featured 23 votes for Republicans other than that party's speaker nominee. Of the 19 Democrats who didn't support Pelosi on Wednesday, 18 voted for other Democrats and one voted "present."

In no other election in between do the numbers approach those two races (with an asterisk next to 1923, when 22 votes were cast for other Republicans on the first of nine ballots; by the ninth and final ballot, though, there were only two defectors).

Back in the 1920s, though, defections were much more common. Since 1945, only seven such protest votes have been lodged -- total.

Of the 18 Democrats voting for other candidates yesterday, 11 voted for Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), two voted for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and five voted for other Democrats. The seven candidates receiving votes is more than any other race on record.

The data overall is spotty, with no good numbers on which members voted for whom for House speaker. But a comparison of the House speaker vote totals and a look at the partisan breakdown of the corresponding Congresses shows that defectors have been few and far between -- and in most cases, those not voting for their party's candidate simply didn't vote (perhaps because they weren't present).

Looking at those numbers, this appears to be the first time in at least 35 years that the number of Democrats not supporting their speaker candidate has been in double digits.

Twice over that span, the Democratic nominee for speaker failed to get the support of at least nine members of his party's caucus. In 1981, there were 242 Democrats in the House and 233 votes for Speaker Tip O'Neill (D). Two years later, there were 269 Democrats in the House and 260 votes for O'Neill.

But in both 1981 and 1983, about 20 members of Congress didn't register votes for either nominee -- a number that suggests some of those withholding support were not protesting O'Neill, but merely that the members weren't there to vote. With Pelosi, all but one of the 19 who didn't vote for her cast ballots for someone else, and the lone non-voting member, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), has been a very vocal opponent of Pelosi.

On the Republican side, the GOP's unanimous support for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was one of only a handful of cases where one party has voted 100 percent for its candidate for speaker. Rarely has an entire party caucus been present, with everyone voting for it's speaker nominee. Boehner, as is custom, did not vote for himself.

Even if the votes -- and the defections -- are largely symbollic, they say something about the current unity within either party. Pelosi has some fence-mending to do.

Democratic Political Directors Unite!: Martha McKenna, the political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2010 cycle, and Jen Pihlaja, who held the same post at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are leaving their respective jobs to start a media consulting firm.

Known, creatively, as McKenna-Pihlaja, the firm will aim to differentiate itself from the field by taking a general consultant approach; that is, not just cutting ads and airing them but deeply involving itself in the building and day-to-say strategy of the campaigns with which they work. (The firm has not yet announced any clients.)

McKenna and Pihlaja met at EMILY's List where they both worked in the opposition research and political shops. Combined the two have managed House races in Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky. McKenna served as DSCC political director in the 2008 and 2010 cycles while Pihlaja moved from midwest political director at the DCCC in 2008 to the top job in 2010.

"Winning campaigns have more than just a good television ad, they have a vision and a comprehensive plan to communicate with voters in many different ways," McKenna said. "Our firm will offer strategies that integrate goals with a creative and cutting edge plan."


Just 31 percent of Americans identify themselves as Democrats, according to Gallup. That's tied for the lowest percentage in 22 years, but it's still more than Republicans (29 percent).

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) has officially launched his campaign for Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-Neb.) seat. Bruning launched an exploratory committee shortly after November's election.

More than two-thirds of Nevada Republicans say they wish their party had nominated someone other than Sharron Angle in the 2010 Senate race, according to Public Policy Polling.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) says he may run for governor in 2012.

The bad news just keeps mounting for newly sworn in Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.).

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack dismisses suggestions that he might be President Obama's new chief of staff.

Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-Ind.) meeting with tea party leaders doesn't appear to have changed their resolve to challenge him in a primary.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) says he will serve out his current term, a pledge that would foreclose a run against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012.

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | January 6, 2011; 8:01 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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