The last time a sitting speaker suffered a defeat and stayed on as minority leader was Sam Rayburn. The Texas Democrat lost his hold on the speaker's chair in 1953 until Democrats retook control of the House two years later in 1955, when Rayburn retook the gavel.
Former speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., did not seek a leadership position in the 110th Congress after Republicans lost their majority in the 2006 congressional midterm elections. He ended up resigning from Congress altogether mid-session in 2007.
If Democrats hold on, multiple Democratic sources say not to expect much of a shake-up. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., likely would keep his post as the House's second-ranking Democrat while Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. is also expected to hold onto his position as Majority Whip.
While Democratic sources maintain optimism that the Democrats will hold onto the majority, if they do not, sources said, pandemonium could follow as members jockey for position.
Pelosi, Democratic sources said, likely would find many members ready to challenge her for the top Democratic leadership position.
But who emerges as minority leader is anyone's guess. Hoyer is viewed as a loyal No. 2, riding shotgun to Pelosi. But if she decides not to stay on as the Democrats' top-ranking member in a minority, Hoyer might not be a slam-dunk to ascend to minority leader.
Hoyer has served more than 30 years in the House and it was his broad support across many of the Democratic caucuses that voted him majority leader over Pelosi-backed Rep. John Murtha in 2006.
But many of those close relationships are with incumbents who are in jeopardy of losing tough re-election contests. Without that base, Democratic sources said, Hoyer's appeal to the caucus could become weakened.
For his own part, Hoyer has maintained a busy schedule campaigning for House Democrats, with stops just this week in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Louisiana. Hoyer already has campaigned for Democratic candidates from more than 80 congressional districts and has raised more than $5 million for Democratic candidates this cycle.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, who has the tough responsibility of helping to elect Democrats to House seats and stave off a Republican takeover of the chamber, is seen as someone who could possibly move into a new Democratic leadership role next cycle.
Van Hollen, who on top of his current role as DCCC chairman has a dual leadership responsibility as assistant to the Speaker of the House, has made it clear that he will not likely stick around at the DCCC for another election cycle, leaving that leadership position up for grabs next cycle.
But Democratic aides cautioned that he might not rise too high in a Democratic minority. Although sources admit Van Hollen has been dealt a tough hand, if Democrats lose 40 or 50 seats in the House, sources questioned why he would be deserving of a promotion in the Democratic party's leadership.
Democratic sources said the leadership position to watch would be the one vacated by Van Hollen at the DCCC. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., all are seen as rising stars in the party and could launch campaigns for that opening.
Even if Democrats lose, sources said, Clyburn has a wide base of support and likely would hold onto a top Democratic leadership position in the minority.