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Heath Shuler Would Be Greenest (and Youngest) Floor Leader in U.S. House History

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If elected, Shuler would become the first majority or minority leader with less than five terms of service in the U.S. House and the first elected below the age of 45

With the defeat of dozens of conservative and moderate House Democrats earlier this month, Heath Shuler's (NC-11) bold challenge for Nancy Pelosi's position of Minority Leader is - as Shuler admits - a long shot.

But it is not simply the Democratic caucus being depleted of its conservative and moderate wing that makes Shuler's bid a difficult one - it is also his experience.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that Shuler - who is entering his 3rd term in Congress - would be by far the youngest and least experienced legislator among the 35 individuals who have served in the majority or minority leadership positions since their creation in the late 1800s.

The average length of service in the U.S. House for past minority or majority leaders at the beginning of their floor leadership tenure is 9.7 terms (10.3 terms for Democrats), with no such leader getting elected with less than five terms in office.

The low water mark for experience was set when Missouri Republican Roy Blunt became Acting Majority Leader during his fifth term after Tom Delay's departure from the post in September 2005.

Only two other leaders came to their position with just six terms in the House: Democratic Minority Leader John Sharp Williams in 1903 and Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey in 1995.

Nearly half of minority or majority leaders were in their 10th term or longer when they were first elected to their floor leadership positions (16 of 35 leaders).

Rising to the leadership of their party after 14 terms in the chamber were Democratic Minority Leader John Garner of Texas (in 1929), Democratic Majority Leader Henry Rainey of Illinois (in 1931), Democratic Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana (in 1971), and Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland (in 2007).

If elected, Shuler would also become the youngest member of Congress to hold a floor leadership post.

The average age of those first elected to the positions of majority or minority leader is 55.3 years old - or approximately 17 years older than Shuler, 38.

The youngest member to be elected majority or minority leader was North Carolina Democrat Claude Kitchin who became majority leader in 1915 at the age of 45.

Only six other representatives were elected to these top leadership posts before the age of 50: Charles Halleck of Indiana at age 46 (GOP Majority Leader in 1947), Finis Garrett of Tennessee at age 47 (Democratic Minority Leader in 1923), Dick Gephardt of Missouri at age 47 (Democratic Majority Leader in 1989), John Sharp Williams of Mississippi at age 48 (Democratic Minority Leader in 1903), Oscar Underwood of Alabama at age 48 (Democratic Majority Leader in 1911), and John McCormack of Massachusetts at age 48 (Democratic Majority Leader in 1940).

Twenty other leaders were elected when in their 50s, seven more in their 60s, and one (Henry Rainey of Illinois) at the age of 70.

Age and Term of U.S. Representatives When First Elected to Majority or Minority Leadership Post

Representative
State
Party
Leader
Year
Terms
Age
Sereno Payne
NY
GOP
Majority
1899
8
55
James Richardson
TN
DEM
Minority
1899
8
55
John Sharp Williams
MS
DEM
Minority
1903
6
48
James Beauchamp Clark
MO
DEM
Minority
1908
7
57
Oscar Underwood
AL
DEM
Majority
1911
9
48
James Mann
IL
GOP
Minority
1911
8
54
Claude Kitchin
NC
DEM
Majority
1915
8
45
Frank Mondell
WY
GOP
Majority
1919
12
58
Nicholas Longworth
OH
GOP
Majority
1923
10
53
Finis Garrett
TN
DEM
Minority
1923
10
47
John Tilson
CT
GOP
Majority
1925
8
58
John Garner
TX
DEM
Minority
1929
14
60
Henry Rainey
IL
DEM
Majority
1931
14
70
Bertrand Snell
NY
GOP
Minority
1931
9
60
Joseph Byrns
TN
DEM
Majority
1933
13
63
William Bankhead
AL
DEM
Majority
1935
10
60
Sam Rayburn
TX
DEM
Majority
1937
13
55
Joseph Martin
MA
GOP
Minority
1939
8
54
John McCormack
MA
DEM
Majority
1940
7
48
Charles Halleck
IN
GOP
Majority
1947
7
46
Carl Albert
OK
DEM
Majority
1962
8
53
Gerald Ford
MI
GOP
Minority
1965
9
51
Hale Boggs
LA
DEM
Majority
1971
14
57
Tip O'Neill
MA
DEM
Majority
1973
11
60
John Rhodes
AZ
GOP
Minority
1973
11
56
James Wright, Jr.
TX
DEM
Majority
1977
12
54
Robert Michel
IL
GOP
Minority
1981
13
57
Thomas Foley
WA
DEM
Majority
1987
12
57
Richard Gephardt
MO
DEM
Majority
1989
7
47
Dick Armey
TX
GOP
Majority
1995
6
54
Tom Delay
TX
GOP
Majority
2003
10
55
Nancy Pelosi
CA
DEM
Minority
2003
9
62
Roy Blunt
MO
GOP
Majority
2005
5
54
John Boehner
OH
GOP
Majority
2006
8
56
Steny Hoyer
MD
DEM
Majority
2007
14
67
Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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