U.S. Rep.-elect Jason Crow joined the Denver Protest to Protect Robert Mueller on the west steps of the Colorado statehouse on Nov. 8, 2018. (Marvin Anani, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Alan FramThe Associated Press

WASHINGTON — What started out as a rebellion with a potentially devastating effect on Nancy Pelosi’s winning drive to reclaim the House speaker’s post officially fell short Thursday as just 15 Democrats — including Colorado’s Jason Crow — refused to back her bid for the job.

Though suspense about the outcome vanished last month, the 15 Democrats who supported other people or voted “present” was an unusually high number of defectors for speaker elections, which every new Congress holds on its first day. And it underscored that there remains a nucleus of Pelosi opponents within her party whom she may need to confront, if she seeks to lead the House again after the 2020 elections, should Democrats retain their majority.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California. She was elected speaker of the House on Thursday. (Handout)

Ten newly minted Democratic freshmen and five long-time critics from her party abandoned Pelosi, D-Calif. Because some lawmakers missed the roll call or voted “present,” she needed 216 votes to win Thursday — a figure she surpassed by just four.

The House formally elected her Thursday to lead the new Congress by 220-192 over Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is now minority leader. A smattering of lawmakers supported alternative candidates.

Democrats gained 40 seats in November’s elections, vaulting them to House control with their biggest electoral gains in four decades and following eight years in the minority. Democrats now command a chamber of Congress for the first time since President Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017.

Even so, Pelosi, 78, encountered internal opposition from long-time critics plus challengers who said during their campaigns that they would not back her for speaker.

MORE: Read more politics and government coverage from The Colorado Sun.

Led by rebels including Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Kathleen Rice of New York and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, her foes cited the need for younger, fresh leaders. They also said years of Republican advertising painting Pelosi as an out-of-touch radical had hurt Democrats’ chances to win in moderate districts.

The dissidents initially predicted they would be able to round up enough votes to head her off.

Pelosi began her campaign to regain the speaker’s job, which she held from 2007 until 2011, immediately after the election. She used weeks of one-on-one meetings, promised committee assignments and legislative priorities and lobbying by outside prominent Democrats and groups to wear down her opposition. She clinched her victory after promising to serve no more than four additional years as speaker.

Veteran Democrats who backed other candidates were Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Rice. Rice voted for Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who lost a close race for Georgia governor in November. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., voted “present.”

Incoming Democratic freshmen who opposed Pelosi were Reps. Anthony Brindisi and Max Rose of New York, Crow of Aurora, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Jared Golden of Maine, Ben McAdams of Utah, Mikie Sherrill and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew voted “present.”

Crow voted for U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat. He had vowed during his campaign not to support Pelosi’s speakership, but doubted there would be any impacts on his political future and ability in the Congress. 

“I’m not concerned about that, and I don’t have a reason to be concerned about that,” he told The Colorado Sun in an interview last month. “I have spoken with her. I think we have a decent relationship. I have no reason to believe that she’s upset with me and my position. I’ve articulated why I have taken the position that I have. She understands that, I believe.” 

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, was among those who initially opposed Pelosi’s speakership but ultimately backed her after winning concessions, including term limits and a guarantee that she not retaliate against any lawmaker who didn’t support her.

MORE: Pledge to limit tenure as speaker wins over Nancy Pelosi critics, including Colorado’s Ed Perlmutter

In one measure of her effectiveness, eight of 16 Democrats who signed a November letter saying they were “committed to voting for new leadership” backed Pelosi Thursday, including Ryan, Moulton and Perlmutter.

To be elected, a speaker needs a majority of lawmakers who’ve voted for a named candidate. With 430 House members voting for candidates Thursday and all Republicans opposing her, Pelosi needed 216 votes to win.

Ohio GOP Rep. John Boehner was elected speaker in 2015 with 25 Republicans voting for other candidates. That was the high water mark of opposition from a speaker’s own party since World War I and a harbinger of a power play by conservatives that fall that chased him from office.

Most speakers have been elected with unanimous support from their party or a smattering of opposition.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

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