Hoyer Aims to Win House Majority Leadership Post

Maryland's Steny Hoyer, currently the House minority whip, hopes to be elected majority leader in the next Congress. But first he'll have to overcome rival John Murtha of Pennsylvania, whose candidacy is backed by Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive speaker. Hoyer speaks with Steve Inskeep about the race.

After the Election, New Races on Capitol Hill

John Murtha and Steny Hoyer

hide captionDemocrats John Murtha (left) and Steny Hoyer are vying to become House majority leader, when their party takes control of Congress in January.

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Reps. Joe Barton, Mike Pence and John Boehner

hide captionThe race for House Republican leader includes Reps. Joe Barton (from left), Mike Pence and John Boehner.

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Both parties will be electing their leaders for the upcoming 110th Congress this week, Democrats on Thursday, Republicans on Friday. Here is a rundown of the ballot:

Democrats

With the current Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, likely to become the next speaker of the House, two veteran congressmen from Eastern and Democratic states are vying to become her second-in-command.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland is the current Democratic whip and hopes to move up the leadership ladder behind Pelosi. Hoyer is a genial, loquacious, centrist Democrat, who is pro-business but socially liberal. He has campaigned long and hard for the post, donating more than $600,000 from his political action committee to the campaigns of other Democratic congressional candidates. His long time in the running, and steady solicitation of support, is thought to have made him the front-runner.

Hoyer's competition is John Murtha of Pennsylvania. A longtime hawk on defense matters and a social conservative, Murtha gained national note and notoriety when he called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq in November 2005. Pelosi cited Murtha's stance as a turning point in Democrats' efforts to regain a congressional majority, and she has endorsed Murtha for the leadership post. But critics charge that Murtha, a relative latecomer in the campaign, has ethics problems, having been accused of steering federal defense contracts to his district and to firms that have given him campaign contributions.

The next tier of leadership posts has been resolved. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the current chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, will become majority whip, the No. 3 position. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited the candidates and drafted the strategy that catapulted Democrats into power on Nov. 7, will become the new caucus chairman while retaining the campaign title as well for 2006. Emanuel agreed not to challenge Clyburn for the whip job, and will see the duties of the caucus chairman expanded.

Republicans

The GOP faces the challenge of transitioning from 12 years as the majority, setting the agenda and controlling votes, to becoming the congressional loyal opposition. With House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) declining to run for a leadership post in the minority, the front-runner for Republican leader is the current majority leader, John Boehner of Ohio. Boehner has run a low-profile campaign, and as a relative newcomer to his current leadership post he is not held responsible for the GOP's congressional losses on Nov. 7. Still, he was around for some of the trauma that afflicted GOP incumbents in the current Congress — including the 11th hour emergence of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. And now he faces challenges from two men who believe the GOP needs some fresh faces.

Mike Pence of Indiana heads the party's conservative faction in the House, known as the Republican Study Committee. He's been touting his communications skills, insisting that the minority will need someone who can strongly make its case. And he argues the party needs to return to its conservative roots and abandon the "big-government Republicanism" that he says the voters rejected. Pence felt the heat in his home state, where three other Republican House members were defeated.

Joe Barton of Texas is perhaps the longest of long shots for the leader's post. The current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Barton joined the race just this week, arguing that he combines Pence's conservative fervor and Boehner's pragmatic experience and can get the job done. He may also feel that as chief sponsor of the energy package Congress approved in 2005, he has more accomplishments to show than his rivals.

The race for House minority whip is probably the most hotly contested of the GOP leadership races. It pits the incumbent Republican whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, against Arizona's John Shadegg. Blunt, a onetime protege of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been around the longest of the GOP leaders. But that could be Blunt's biggest liability for those Republicans who want to put a fresh face on the party. Shadegg is a member of the vaunted "revolution" class of 1994, and has argued that he would renew the fervor of the Republican Revolution. Some Republicans have also talked of drafting Eric Cantor of Virginia for this job. Cantor has served as the chief deputy whip to Blunt.

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