WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep.-elect Jared Golden of Maine is among more than 20 House Democrats who will vote to deny Rep. Nancy Pelosi another stint as House speaker, a show of defiance that puts her opponents on the cusp of forcing a seismic leadership shake-up as their party prepares to take the majority.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed full confidence that she’ll retake the speaker’s gavel.

Sixteen Democrats have signed a letter indicating their pledge to oppose Pelosi, D-Calif., both in an internal caucus election and a Jan. 3 floor vote.

Another five – Golden, Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, and Reps.-elect Jason Crow of Colorado, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia – did not sign the letter but have said they would not vote for Pelosi.

Pelosi has marshaled a legion of supporters on and off Capitol Hill to make her case, but her opponents said Monday they are convinced it is time to select a new leader.

“We are thankful to Leader Pelosi for her years of service to our Country and to our Caucus,” they wrote. “However, we also recognize that in this recent election, Democrats ran on and won on a message of change.”

Golden’s campaign spokesman, Bobby Reynolds, said Monday that the congressman-elect has not changed his mind on Pelosi.

“He will not support her for speaker,” Reynolds said. “He believes it’s time for new leadership.”

Reynolds said Golden doesn’t see any need to sign a letter since he’s been on the record about his opposition to Pelosi as speaker.

Brian R. Duff, an associate professor of political science at the University of New England, doesn’t see Golden’s opposition to Pelosi as being a deterrent to his developing a role in Congress as an effective legislator, especially if he can get appointed to legislative committees that deal with health care and military appropriations, issues that are important to his 2nd District constituents.

Golden supports a move toward a universal health-care system, and military spending is a big issue in Maine because of the presence of Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Duff points out that Golden, during his campaign, said that he felt it was time for new leadership and that he would oppose Pelosi’s re-election. Pelosi, however, does not have a reputation of being vindictive, Duff said.

“I don’t expect there will be any vengeance or an attempt to bury him (Golden) somewhere if Pelosi is elected speaker,” Duff said. “But I don’t envy Golden of being in this situation. It could become a difficult vote.”

Duff predicts that Golden will vote for another representative to become speaker – as of Monday no one had announced a run against Pelosi – and if that effort fails, he could cast a vote for Pelosi. “He could tell his supporters that he tried, but it didn’t work out,” Duff said.

Ronald J. Schmidt Jr., an associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, said in an email Monday night that while Pelosi isn’t Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the speaker of the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987, “I believe she understands his maxim that all politics are local.”

If Pelosi is re-elected speaker, Schmidt doesn’t believe that Golden will face retribution for not supporting her candidacy.

“I imagine her central concern was the election of as many Democrats as possible, even if they have to distance themselves from her in order to win,” Schmidt said.

Pelosi, meanwhile, has expressed complete confidence that she will retake the speaker’s gavel in January – eight years after she lost it following massive Republican gains in the 2010 midterms and 16 years after she was first elevated to the top Democratic leadership post in the House.

“Come on in, the water’s fine,” she said Friday about a potential leadership challenge.

The signers of the letter might not be able to force Pelosi out themselves. The size of the Democratic majority remains in flux, but Democrats already have won 232 seats, The Associated Press reported, with five races still undecided.

All those races have Republican incumbents, but the Democratic challenger is ahead in only one of them. If the current leads hold in the uncalled races, Democrats would have won 233 seats – a 16-seat majority.

That means Pelosi could lose as many as 15 Democratic votes when she stands for election as speaker on Jan. 3. One of the 16 signers, Ben McAdams of Utah, is now trailing Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, and might never cast a speaker vote.

Not signing the letter is Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who has publicly opposed Pelosi and is now mulling a run against her. Fudge said Friday she would not make a final decision on whether to run until next week at the earliest.

Democratic aides involved in the effort to oust Pelosi but not authorized to comment publicly said they are confident additional lawmakers would oppose Pelosi in a floor vote beyond those who signed the letter.

Also Monday, Rep. Diana DeGette announced suddenly that she was abandoning her bid for the No. 3 job in the House Democratic leadership, ending the only official challenge to one of the party’s top leaders.

DeGette, D-Colo., had challenged Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African-American in House leadership, for the majority whip post. But facing a backlash from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, DeGette dropped her bid – ensuring, for now, that Clyburn will remain in the top ranks.

Any major shake-up in the Democratic leadership now depends on whether a small group of incumbents and freshmen can muster the votes to keep Pelosi from seizing the House speaker’s gavel in January. If that bid is successful, it could kick off a wholesale scramble that could also threaten Clyburn, the current assistant Democratic leader, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who is seeking to move from whip to majority leader when Democrats take control in January.

“Since my announcement, I have been heartened by the backing I have received across the caucus,” DeGette said in a statement. “Over the last few days, however, many of my supporters have expressed concern about pressure they are receiving to return the three senior leaders to their posts without opposition.”

DeGette, who has long served as chief deputy whip, launched her campaign after the Nov. 6 election by touting her experience in rounding up support for difficult pieces of legislation – implicitly making the case that Clyburn, 78, was not up to or interested in the task.

But the challenge upset backers of Clyburn, a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman and a revered figure among the caucus’s roughly 50 African-Americans – who bristled at the notion that the caucus’s top tier could be all-white.

“Out of the three of the leadership positions, he is the only one with announced opposition,” Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the current Congressional Black Caucus chairman, said last week. “I just think it is offensive and insulting.”

Press Herald Staff Writers Eric Russell and Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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