WASHINGTON — Change at the top? Not necessarily.
Whichever party controls the House and Senate after the Nov. 2 election probably will install the same leaders whose policymaking helped bring about the sour economy, nearly double-digit unemployment and deficit spending that has led voters to call for fresh faces.
The newly elected, no matter how a big their freshman class, will have to wait for power. At most, they may get junior leadership seats in each chamber as a symbolic gesture to the populist wave they rode in on, lawmakers and congressional officials said.
Democrats would have to find a new leader to run the Senate if they keep their majority but Harry Reid loses to tea party favorite Sharron Angle in Nevada. Little more than a week to the election, their race is a toss-up.
The last time voters turned out a sitting party leader in the Senate was in 2004 when Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost to Republican Sen. John Thune.
If Republicans make good on what's widely seen as a House majority for the taking, the new speaker is almost certain to be Rep. John Boehner of Ohio. The 60-year-old has been in charge of House Republicans since the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency. Democrats have spent the campaign season portraying him as Bush redux.
Should the GOP fall short, Republicans may look to a new slate of self-described "young guns" who are more strident in many of their views than Boehner. They include current Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican; Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, a fiscal conservative who came close to derailing Bush's $700 billion bank bailout; and Kevin McCarthy of California, who after only two years in Congress took charge of recruiting the party's field of House candidates this year.
The three make few bones about their ambitions. They even wrote a book about how they would run the House in a post-Boehner era. Attending the book party earlier this fall, Boehner served up a reality check of sorts: That particular kind of change is not at hand.
"The three of them know that my job is to make sure that they're well-qualified and ready to take my place," Boehner said with a semiserious grin, "at the appropriate moment."
Indeed, if that moment comes anytime soon, it'll most likely be because the Republicans failed to win the majority in November.
In that less-likely scenario, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., probably would keep her post as second in the line of succession to the presidency, even after being vilified by Republicans throughout this election season as the face of the Washington establishment.
Retain or lose the majority, Pelosi, 70, faces a far less appealing job as leader of a smaller caucus. Publicly, she has refused to entertain the notion that she will return in any less role than as speaker.
No one has stepped forward to challenge her or her lieutenant, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, another "old bull" with 30 years in the House. It's uncertain whether Pelosi would want to head her party as minority leader, a job she held four years during Bush's presidency, or for how long.