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The fight over Representative Nancy Pelosi’s quest for the speaker’s gavel has become charged with the delicate and timely issue of gender, as Democrats wrestle with the importance of keeping a woman in the top job after a “pink wave” delivered the party back to the majority.

As Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, insisted on Thursday that she had enough support for the speakership, some of her newly elected female colleagues dismissed the notion that it was paramount to have a woman at the top. And some of her male critics — mindful of the optics of dumping the highest-ranking woman in American political history — began floating the names of other women to replace her.

“There’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, one of Ms. Pelosi’s leading critics, told reporters on Wednesday, listing the names of several. Among them was Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who now says she is contemplating a run.

“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Ms. Pelosi said on Thursday, seemingly mocking Ms. Fudge’s challenge. Asked if she had the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership, she said emphatically

As Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, insisted on Thursday that she had enough support for the speakership, some of her newly elected female colleagues dismissed the notion that it was paramount to have a woman at the top. And some of her male critics — mindful of the optics of dumping the highest-ranking woman in American political history — began floating the names of other women to replace her.

“There’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, one of Ms. Pelosi’s leading critics, told reporters on Wednesday, listing the names of several. Among them was Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who now says she is contemplating a run.

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