By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio said on Thursday he was challenging House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who has led the party in the chamber for 14 years, as Democrats question their strategy and leadership after a stinging general election defeat.
Ryan, 43, who has been in Congress since 2003, said in a statement that Democrats had only been in the House of Representatives majority for four of the past 18 years, "and last week's election results set us back even further."
"Vote for me and I will dedicate all of my energy to lead us back into the majority," said Ryan, who is from an old working-class, steel area of northeastern Ohio, the type of region the Democrats want to wrest back from Republicans.
"At this time of fear and disillusionment, we owe it to our constituencies to listen and bring a new voice into leadership."
Democrats had expected to do much better in the Nov. 8 election, when Republican Donald Trump, a New York businessman with no experience in public office, won the White House on the back of working-class voters.
Republicans kept their majorities in both Senate and House after some Democrats had predicted double-digit wins in the House and a chance to win the Senate.
Ryan announced his long-shot challenge after several days of publicly weighing it. Pelosi, 76, of California, claims she has support of two-thirds of Democrats before they vote Nov. 30.
"I'm respectful what people are saying. There's a lot of unease," Pelosi said when asked about the potential challenge.
"And as members in there said, we cannot be taking in the full responsibility for what happened in the election ... a lot of it was beyond our control," she added.
A senior House Democratic aide called Ryan's bid a "publicity stunt." He said Ryan had shortchanged party coffers, paying only half of his dues owed since 2014 to the party's campaign committee. Ryan's office declined comment.
At a closed-door meeting of House Democrats Thursday, about half the roughly two dozen lawmakers who spoke "said we need new leadership," Representative John Yarmuth of Louisville, Kentucky, said in an interview. He declined to say who he would support.
Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City, Missouri, was also noncommittal but said the caucus should "take his (Ryan's) candidacy seriously and contemplate where the caucus is, and where it could go under his leadership."
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Grant McCool)