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And since then, Moulton has expressed confidence the votes are there to sink Pelosi's unopposed campaign to become speaker of the House when the new Congress takes form in January. If she falls far short of 218 votes - the total number she eventually needs to prevail on the floor January 3 if all House members are present and cast a ballot - more Democrats could be encouraged to join the opposition.

Pelosi won the caucus vote 203-32 in an uncontested race.

The vote came after Pelosi struck a tentative deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus, an offshoot of the bipartisan and business-friendly No Labels organization.

Frustration with the Old Guard seems unlikely to dissipate even if Pelosi pulls off a return to House speaker.

Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, were elected by unanimous consent to their respective posts of Majority Leader and Majority Whip.

On top of that, nine Democrats in the bipartisan group called the Problem Solvers Caucus have vowed to oppose her unless she backs several rules reforms created to make it easier for rank-and-file members to advance bipartisan bills. As New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat a top Pelosi ally in an upset primary earlier this year, recently wrote on Twitter, she wants to see a change in leadership, but Pelosi "remains the most progressive candidate". In recent years a growing number of Democrats have pushed behind the scenes for a younger, more diverse House leadership team.

"For some reason, I was told that she viewed me as a big get for her", Higgins said.

"She's battle tested and no one else has demonstrated that they can do what she can do", Democratic strategist Doug Thornell said.

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Pelosi was nominated as her party's choice for speaker by Rep. Joe Kennedy of MA, with no fewer than eight colleagues set to second the choice, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights leader, and three newly elected lawmakers.

A small group of her fellow Democrats opposed Ms Pelosi, but she has secured her party's nomination after negotiations with rank-and-file rebels.

A rump group opposing Mrs. Pelosi's return to the speaker's position says turnover is needed. But one by one, the powerful California congresswoman picked off the would-be challengers and smoothed the skeptics.

"Hakeem's election is helpful to Leader Pelosi, because it's the advancement, in a very substantial position, of someone who most people here view as a new leader and really a rising star", said Rep. Brian Higgins of NY, who signed a letter with 15 other Democrats suggesting they would not vote for Pelosi, but endorsed her last week after she pledged to focus on two of his top policy priorities.

Some are among about a dozen freshmen who had said they want new leadership, but others didn't sign the letter, aides said.

Their demands now are the latest wrinkle in Pelosi's effort to win the speakership, a painstaking campaign she has undertaken in the wake of Democrats' midterm election victories that has involved trying to put down a mini-rebellion among her longtime foes and newcomers demanding change. "But in the end, it's up to them to build an operation and go for it", Thornell said.

Democrats will also vote Wednesday in elections for Democratic leadership positions further down the hierarchy. But she's only giving things to people who can deliver.