WASHINGTON -- Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, lost today in the election for majority whip, the third-ranking House leadership position.
Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan defeated Hoyer 160-109 in an unexpectedly lopsided vote of House Democrats.
The vote is a setback for Maryland's hopes of placing one of its own higher in the leadership ranks where he would be in a better position to serve the state's interests.
Hoyer congratulated Bonior but was obviously distressed at his loss. He declined to answer questions about the reasons for his defeat and about his prospects for future leadership posts.
"I have tremendous respect for his ability," Hoyer said of Bonior. "I intend to . . . very strongly support him."
In his only explanation of why he lost, Hoyer referred to Bonior's unsuccessful race for majority whip two years ago. "I think he garnered tremendous respect . . . and I think quite frankly that was the key to his victory today."
All the House leaders, including Hoyer, appeared together following the caucus and were unanimous in saying the election had been conducted positively and would unite House Democrats.
Bonior had been seen by some as the front-runner because he began lobbying for the position first, even before the current whip, Rep. William H. Gray 3rd, D-Pa., announced his retirement last month.
The whip helps define party policy and strategy, counts votes and, as the title suggests, brings party members into line behind the leadership. But the significance of the election goes beyond the job itself, for whoever wins stands a good chance of becoming House speaker one day.
Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., currently is speaker, and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., is majority leader, the No. 2 post. Should Gephardt run for president next year rather than stand for re-election, the whip might move up.
Hoyer, 51, and Bonior, 46, are both popular and already hold leadership positions.
Hoyer, who represents Maryland's 5th District, currently is chairman of the Democratic Caucus, the fourth-highest job. Bonior is chief deputy whip. Both Hoyer and Bonior are liberals, though Hoyer is considered more moderate, especially on defense.