Democrats in the House of Representatives have chosen California lawmaker Nancy Pelosi as their new leader. She becomes the first woman to lead either of the two dominant political parties in Congress.
Mrs. Pelosi's election comes as the Democratic Party struggles to re-define itself in the wake of disappointments in the recent mid-term elections.
Known for her spirited stands on traditionally Democratic causes, such as the economy and health care, she succeeds Richard Gephardt, who served eight years as party leader.
Mrs. Pelosi became the highest-ranking woman ever in Congress earlier this year when she became House Democratic whip, the party's number two position.
After her selection Thursday, she said Democrats will continue to work with President Bush and Republicans in the war on terrorism. But she says that under her leadership, Democrats will not hesitate to take a stand on important domestic and other issues.
"Where we can find our common ground on the economy, and on other domestic issues, we shall seek it," she said. "We have that responsibility to the American people. Where we cannot find that common ground, we must stand our ground."
Mrs. Pelosi represents the liberal wing of the party, a fact her main opponents for the position emphasized before a closed-door vote was taken.
One of two challengers for the post of Democratic leader was Harold Ford, a conservative 32-year-old African-American congressman from the southern state of Tennessee.
"The opposition that Democrats will have to offer over the next two years, is a constructive, forceful opposition, but one that also offers an alternative course," Congressman Ford said.
Mrs. Pelosi dismisses criticism that her liberal background will cost her party votes in 2004.
Speaking to reporters, she vowed to include all the party's ideological factions in rebuilding a democratic message for voters in 2004.
"What the Democrats will do, working together, is to build consensus around an economic growth message," she said. "And that will be right down the center. So it is not about contrast right to left. It is about a message for economic growth."
Mrs. Pelosi voted against the congressional resolution giving President Bush authorization to launch possible military action against Iraq. Her predecessor, Richard Gephardt, worked closely with the White House in crafting a bill that eventually passed in the House and Senate.
She initially voted against a bill to create a new government department of homeland security, criticizing its size and expense, but voted for a compromise that passed the House Wednesday.
The Democrats election of Mrs. Pelosi stands in sharp contrast to House Republicans who chose conservative Texas Congressman Tom DeLay as the new majority leader in the House.
Mr. DeLay, and soon-to-be Republican majority leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, have made it clear they intend to use the mid-term election result to help President Bush push his legislative objectives in Congress.