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Published: Friday, 11/16/2012

Change at the top

Nancy Pelosi is the Democrat whom Republicans love to hate. Two years ago, the midterm election cost Ms. Pelosi her post as House speaker, yet the Californian stayed on as minority leader.

Despite reports that Ms. Pelosi, who has led the House Democratic caucus for 10 years, was thinking of stepping down now that her caucus has suffered its second disappointing election in a row, she insisted she would run again. She would do better to call it quits.

While President Obama was re-elected last week, Democrats gained a modest seven seats in the House (not all races are decided), leaving Republicans firmly in charge. If Ms. Pelosi were a British politician, someone else would have been installed as leader, sentiment aside.

Ms. Pelosi is 72. Despite the caricatures of her, she is what she always was — a dedicated, smart, and attractive politician who made history as the first female speaker. Her biggest problem is that she comes from San Francisco, which conservatives use against her as a stereotype of wacky liberal excess. But unfair or not, voters in America’s heartland aren’t likely to rejoice if she stays on.

Republicans have a talent for demonizing all Democrats in powerful positions. Anyone who succeeds her will be tarred with the same old brush. But it would be best for the party if it made a clean break from the recent past.

To do that would require someone younger to succeed Ms. Pelosi. The most often mentioned potential replacements are in their 70s — Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, 73, of Maryland and Rep. James Clyburn, 72, of South Carolina. In the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada soon will be 73, and he should be thinking of handing over the reins too.

By contrast, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio will turn 63 on Saturday. Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is 49 and budget chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the vice presidential nominee, returns to the House at age 42.

Democrats have had success in appealing to young people at the polls. That’s even more reason for believing that its leadership can’t afford to be geriatric much longer.



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