Pelosi, a Californian, prevailed over her only rival, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, in a closed-door, secret-ballot 118-95 vote by the chamber's Democrats. She will officially step into the job of Democratic whip on Jan. 15, when Rep. David Bonior of Michigan relinquishes the post to run for governor.
Pelosi's victory makes her the House Democrats' chief vote counter and lieutenant to Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. And it gives her an enormous opportunity to win national prominence, particularly should Gephardt step down to run for the presidency or for some other reason.
"Whoever is elected is likely to be speaker of the House some day," assuming Democrats win a majority in the chamber, said James Thurber, a political scientist at American University.
The victory by Pelosi capped a fierce behind-the-scenes competition that was waged for nearly three years.
In opting for Pelosi, Democrats chose the candidate with the more liberal voting record and underlined the clout of California, which has become a key Democratic stronghold in recent national elections. Its 52 House seats make it by far the largest delegation in the House, and that number will grow to 53 in January 2003 after congressional districts are rewritten to conform with last year's census.
Immediately after the vote, Hoyer said in a written statement: "I said during my campaign that if I lost I would continue to act on behalf of the Democratic Party's principles and policies and I intend to do exactly that."
Pelosi, 61, and Hoyer, 62, are similar in a number of ways.
Their voting records are similar, though Pelosi's is slightly more liberal. Both serve on the House Appropriations Committee, a prime spot for bringing money back home and doing favors for colleagues because it controls a third of the $2 trillion federal budget.
Both sport well-tailored clothes and have known each other since the early 1960s, when they worked for Sen. Daniel Brewster, D-Md. Hoyer was born in New York but has had a long political career in Maryland. Pelosi is from a prominent Maryland political family, daughter of Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., a former House member and mayor of Baltimore.
Their biggest difference may be their gender.
Pelosi said she was not seeking support because she hoped to add a female face to her party's House leadership, but added, "There's a great deal of excitement across the country about it."
Pelosi is an eight-term veteran from San Francisco whose style during House debate can be pointed but gentle. She is perhaps best known for her frequent battles for abortion rights, funds for AIDS programs and human rights in China, yet she also has proven prowess as a money-raiser for her party.
Hoyer, representing the capital's Maryland suburbs for 11 terms, supports abortion rights but lso has cast himself as a proponent of streamlined government. Quick with a quip or with a perfect sound bite for television, Hoyer has recruited many Democratic candidates and endeared himself to colleagues in part by working on internal issues they care about, such as increasing members' salaries.
Both candidates' campaigns sought to cover all the bases with a whirlwind of telephone calls and visits to colleagues' districts for fund-raisers.
Pelosi spokesman Jonathan Stivers said she raised more than $4 million for House Democratic candidates for the 2000 elections and $1.6 million so far this year. Stacey Farnen, Hoyer's spokeswoman, said the congressman raised $1.3 million for Democrats in the 2000 races and nearly $400,000 this year.
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