WASHINGTON -- Stinging from double-digit election losses among female voters, House Republicans elected a woman to their top leadership team Wednesday in a tense test of gender politics and the clout of the GOP's power brokers.
The election of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state to the No. 4 leadership position among House Republicans dispatches conservative favorite Tom Price of Georgia, who had been endorsed by Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, didn't take sides, but Ms. McMorris Rodgers was considered the leadership favorite.
Newly elected Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks said it was important to have a woman in a top role. "It does show our party values strong female leadership," she said of Ms. McMorris Rodgers' election. Ms. Brooks said she expects the party now to "try and do a better job of getting our message out to a broader audience."
The race for such an obscure post carried big symbolism after women voted for Democrats by an 11-point margin in the presidential and generic congressional races, according to an exit poll by The Associated Press and television networks. Republicans widely decried their party's domination by white males, and Democrats declared themselves the party of diversity.
In the Senate, the GOP was once thought to be poised to gain control of the chamber, but instead lost two seats to Democrats. In the House, Republicans retained the majority, but lost as many as eight seats -- with some races still uncalled. And President Barack Obama defeated Mr. Romney, 332-206, in the Electoral College tally.
The election's lessons weighed heavily on lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill this week for a lame-duck, end-of-year session. Ms. McMorris Rodgers' supporters had touted her conservatism and her work as Mr. Romney's House liaison. Mr. Ryan promoted Mr. Price as a proven leader and advocate of conservative policies on budget, tax and health care issues. Party leadership vote totals were not released.
Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., surrounded herself with other female lawmakers to announce that she will run again for leader despite her party's failure to gain the 25 seats it needed to flip control of the House. Ms. Pelosi, the nation's first female House speaker, largely skipped over her chamber-control disappointment and focused on the election results that she said made her caucus the most diverse in history.
"The point is that if America is going to reach its full fulfillment as a nation, we must have the further empowerment of women," said Ms. Pelosi, who put off the formality of leadership elections until after Thanksgiving.
Her motivation was closer to home, too: "Being actively involved in politics at this level is really insatiable," Ms. Pelosi said. "There's so much more I want to do, I don't know how to get any more hours in the day. You can only sleep so less."
House Republicans reacted with derision. "There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status," National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said. "This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people, who took the speaker's gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place."
Ms. Pelosi's announcement was one of several throughout the day that would give more clarity to the leadership and direction of the next Congress. As in the House, senators re-elected their top leaders, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell.
Senate Republicans elected Texan John Cornyn as the vote-wrangling whip, South Dakota's John Thune as the GOP conference chairman, Wyoming's John Barrasso as policy committee chairman, and Kansas' Jerry Moran as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party's campaign arm.
For Senate Democrats, Illinois' Dick Durbin remains whip, and New York's Chuck Schumer remains policy committee chairman. Washington state's Patty Murray will serve as secretary, leaving open the Democrats' campaign committee chairmanship. Colorado's Michael Bennet was said by party officials to be a leading contender for that.
Another question answered about the makeup of the next Congress: Newly elected Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, announced that he will caucus next year with Democrats.