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Middlemen No More? Emergent Patterns in Congressional Leadership Selection

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2008

Douglas B. Harris
Loyola College in Maryland
Garrison Nelson
University of Vermont


For a quarter-century, conservative Republicans have used the “San Francisco liberal” label to place Democrats as outside the American mainstream. Imagine their dismay as the 110th Congress opened in January 2007 and Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat well to the left of most of her party, ascended to the podium as speaker of the United States House of Representatives. This was, to be sure, a departure. Traditionally, House Democrats had selected ideological “middlemen” for top leadership posts (Truman 1959), particularly those from the “Austin-Boston alliance” that held unbroken sway in House Democratic leadership selection from the initial teaming of Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas and Majority Leader John McCormack of Boston in 1940 to that of Tip O'Neill of Boston and Texan Jim Wright in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, Democrats “almost never” selected “‘Americans for Democratic Action-type’ liberals” as leaders (Peabody 1976, 470).

© 2008 The American Political Science Association

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