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By KELSI LOOS
WASHINGTON -- Maryland Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen are among the names in play in the Democratic leadership election at the end of the month, political observers say.
Both Minority Whip Hoyer and Budget ranking member Van Hollen are already among the caucus brain trust, but experts say either could emerge as minority leader should Nancy Pelosi step down. Pelosi has not said whether she will run again this term but the fact that she has postponed the leadership elections to Nov. 29 has led to some speculation that she might not.
Her staff told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Retirement is not an operative word."
If Pelosi does resign, it likely would be on her own terms because no Democrats have publicly moved to challenge her seat.
A possible candidate for minority leader, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., told MSNBC, "It all depends on what Nancy wants to do. If she wants to run for reelection, I guarantee you she will get re-elected. She has the votes to do that."
This is a contrast to 2010, when there were calls for Pelosi to step down after her party lost control of the House. The fact that she did not step aside then is a sign that she will likely hold onto her seat now, said George Washington University professor Christopher Deering.
"I think it is less likely (she would step down) given that she kind of broke the mold a bit," said Deering, explaining that majority leaders whose parties lose the House generally do give up their seat.
If Pelosi were ready to retire, it would make sense for her to wait until next year to allow her potential replacement the normal time to campaign, said University of Wisconsin professor, David Canon.
If she were to resign, the most likely replacements would be Hoyer, Van Hollen or Clyburn, according Canon.
Hoyer would be the next in the chain of succession as Democratic whip. "There is a tendency to just go up the leadership ladder and (Hoyer) is next in line. On the other hand, he is 73 years old," said Canon.
Age would also be an issue for Clyburn who is 72. However, as assistant Democratic Party leader, he is close to Pelosi. The office was created for him, a sign that the party wants him in a leadership position, according to Canon who also pointed out that Clyburn has appeal as a moderate voice in the Congressional Black Caucus. Clyburn would also be the first African-American Democratic House leader.
Van Hollen is younger, 53, and has built a high profile as a ranking member of the Budget Committee. He also played a key role as a past Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, which makes him popular with other members.
"They're the ones in charge of handing out the money," said Canon adding, "He's someone who creates a lot of goodwill."
Pelosi, Hoyer and Van Hollen could not be reached for comment.
Pelosi may be the only one who knows if Democrats will need to make any changes at the end of the month, nevertheless, George Washington University professor Danny Hayes was not surprised at people trying to predict the future.
"There is always speculation when you have either changes in control or, in this case, essentially continuation of the status quo."