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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 19:10 GMT
A woman on top in US Congress
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (r)
Nancy Pelosi (right) is breaking new ground for women
Nancy Pelosi's victory in the race to become the House Democratic leader has brought a radical and a woman to one of the leading political posts in America.

She has become the highest ranking woman in Congress.

Mrs Pelosi succeeded Richard Gephardt, who stepped down after 13 years as House leader following his party's setbacks in the mid-term elections.

Dick Gephardt may seek to run for the White House
Dick Gephardt is standing down as leader of the party

A congresswoman from San Francisco, Mrs Pelosi had public commitments of support from more than half the House Democrats to beat off the challenges from Harold Ford and Marcy Kaptur.

Her election brings a leading liberal voice to the leadership of the Democrats in the House.

She has pledged to take a more aggressive line in stressing her party's differences with the Republicans.

During the mid-term elections and the congressional vote on the Iraqi war powers resolution, she opposed President Bush's policy, unlike many of her Democratic colleagues.

She fought the battle to become House leader from the strong position of Democratic whip in the House of Representatives, and enjoyed strong support from women members, liberals and the large number of representatives from her home state of California.

New course for Democrats

The Democrat losses in the mid-terms caused much soul-searching in the party over whether it had been too liberal or not liberal enough to defeat the Republicans.

Nancy Pelosi will want the party to take a new, more liberal ideological course - she has characterised this as getting her congressional colleagues "to formulate a strong Democratic message".

She is an unabashed West Coast liberal, who made history last year by being elected to the number two spot in the party leadership.

Mrs Pelosi is seen as one of the party's rising stars. She is a prolific fundraiser - a talent that is admired by allies and adversaries alike.

A native of Baltimore, she comes from a large Italian-American, Roman Catholic family. She is also the child of one of Baltimore's foremost political families - both her father and brother served as mayor.

Her base is among California Democrats, 33 of whom will take up seats in the House next year.

An Iraqi schoolgirl plays in front of a poster of President Saddam Hussein
Mrs Pelosi voted against an Iraq attack

But she has made it clear that she wants to balance her perceived West Coast liberalism within the House leadership.

She says that her first act will be to nominate a moderate Democrat, John Spratt of South Carolina, as her deputy to create " a strong diverse coalition", according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Outspoken

She has represented her district in San Francisco since 1987, and it is seen as one of the most liberal districts in the nation.

While she is said to have plenty of allies in the top ranks of the party, her liberal credentials have attracted criticism.

Her vote against an Iraq attack and her outspoken opposition to normal trade relations with China because of human rights abuses have put her at odds with members of her own party.

She is also on the left on social and economic issues, such as education, health care, housing and environmental protection.

The 62-year-old congresswoman is a senior member of the House appropriations and intelligence committees.

Despite her political childhood, Mrs Pelosi did not follow a traditional course into politics.

She was a San Francisco homemaker for years, married to a businessman and raising five children.

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi will be leading Democrats in the corridors of power

Mrs Pelosi became active in Californian politics in the early 1980s. She was chief fundraiser for the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 1986 election.

She had been thinking about running for mayor in 1987 when her local congresswoman fell ill and died. Mrs Pelosi won the seat in a special election.

Analysts say her gender should be a plus for a party that relies on the votes of women for victory.

And she obviously wants to put some clear blue sky between Democrat and Republican policies on issues such as foreign policy, the economy, education and health care.

She will make a difference for the Democrats, but whether it will be one that enables them to regain lost ground remains to be seen.


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07 Nov 02 | Americas
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