WASHINGTON — Representative Nancy Pelosi asserted Thursday that she has enough support among her colleagues to become the next speaker of the House, as the first hint of opposition emerged from an Ohio Democrat, Representative Marcia Fudge, who said she is considering a run.
“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Ms. Pelosi said, dismissing the notion that Ms. Fudge was a threat. Asked if she had the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership, she said emphatically, “Yes.”
Ms. Pelosi is an exceptionally skilled politician, and many Democrats say she remains the odds-on favorite to return to the post in January. Her comments came as the fight over whether she should be speaker is heating up among her colleagues, exposing deep divisions over the role of gender in leadership at a time when a so-called pink wave put the party back in the House majority.
On Wednesday, some of Ms. Pelosi’s critics — who have been pilloried as #FiveWhiteGuys on Twitter — floated the idea of putting another woman in the job, and named Ms. Fudge, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Though many Democrats do not regard Ms. Fudge as a serious challenge to Ms. Pelosi, any opposition could complicate life for her, because a number of Democrats have said that while they are undecided, they have no one else to vote for. A bid by Ms. Fudge would give them an option. And more than a dozen Democrats have already said that they oppose Ms. Pelosi, who is from California.
Ms. Fudge told The Washington Post on Thursday she was “overwhelmed” with the support she had received from colleagues. One prominent opponent of Ms. Pelosi, Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, said Thursday that he had spoken with Ms. Fudge repeatedly throughout the day.
“There’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” he said, listing the names of Ms. Fudge, Representative Karen Bass of California and Representative Cherie Bustos of Illinois, who is running to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In an interview, Ms. Bustos, a Pelosi supporter, brushed off the idea of being speaker, saying she was focused on the campaign committee race.
Ms. Pelosi made history in 2007 when, after a unanimous vote of her caucus, she took the gavel as the first female speaker.
The current split over her leadership is especially striking among women, who make up two-thirds of the incoming freshmen Democrats. It seems both generational and ideological, with older women in the caucus almost universally in support of Ms. Pelosi, and some younger newcomers — especially centrists from states won by President Trump in 2016 — questioning the role that gender should play.
“I never want to be disrespectful to anyone who has served, especially a woman who has broken glass ceilings,” said Elissa Slotkin, 42, an incoming representative from Michigan who opposes Ms. Pelosi and just ousted a Republican in a tight race. “But people in my district on both sides of the aisle feel that it’s time for a new generation of leadership.”
She added, “For me, what’s most important for my district is someone who’s talking about kitchen table issues. That’s more important than gender.”
But such talk mystifies Representative Jan Schakowsky, 74, Democrat of Illinois. “I don’t understand why they don’t see the value of having a woman, a mother of five, someone who has made part of her mission empowering other women,” Ms. Schakowsky said. “I wish these younger women could have seen her in action, in moving an agenda, in working for her victories.”
Ms. Schakowsky called the attacks on Ms. Pelosi by their male colleagues as “sexist,” saying they are not pushing to oust longtime male leaders like Representative Steny D. Hoyer of Maryland, who is running for the No. 2 job as Democratic leader, and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is running for Democratic whip.
“You don’t hear anything about other leaders being around too long, that we have to get rid of the men,” she said.
In many respects, the divide over Ms. Pelosi echoes the 2016 presidential nomination campaign of Hillary Clinton, who drew much stronger support among older women, as young women flocked to Bernie Sanders.
Celinda Lake, a pollster who advises many female candidates — including a number of the incoming House freshmen — said many, including some progressives, were wrestling with what to do about Ms. Pelosi.
“I think to older baby boomer women she represents change,” Ms. Lake said. “To younger members she represents status quo.”