Hoyer to fight for No. 2 party leader's role

With Murtha seen on inside track, contest threatens Democratic split

House of Representatives

The Nation Votes 2006

November 08, 2006|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives will elevate some Marylanders to more influential posts and could give Rep. Steny H. Hoyer a chance to become the No. 2 House leader.]-- But first Hoyer must overcome a challenge from a close ally of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, a Baltimore native who is all but certain to become the first woman speaker.

Hoyer, first elected to Congress more than 25 years ago, is vying with Rep. John P. Murtha, a Pelosi loyalist from Pennsylvania, for the job of majority leader.

If Hoyer wins the post in elections scheduled for Nov. 16, the man from Southern Maryland would control the House schedule, help set party strategy and serve as the chief Democratic spokesman on the House floor.

"It gives us - a small state - a lot of influence in just about every single thing that goes on in the Congress, because he will be at every single table," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore.

But Hoyer's tense relationship with Pelosi could complicate his chances against Murtha, a hawkish former Marine who has called for a quick U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The contest, pitting liberals against moderates, could split House Democrats.

"If Hoyer is defeated, and Nancy Pelosi is implicated in his defeat, the Democratic Caucus will look like Beirut," said University of Maryland political scientist Eric Uslaner. "It will be a clear indication that the Democrats do not have their act together, and it will be an invitation for Republicans to try to play divide and conquer."

Hoyer, a moderate who sits on the Appropriations Committee, would give up his seat there if his bid to be Pelosi's top deputy were successful; otherwise, he would retain that post, with sway over spending decisions.

Cummings wants to join the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, succeeding Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who sought election to the Senate. If Cummings fails in that bid, he would be in line to chair a Government Reform subcommittee that oversees drug policy and criminal justice.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County wants to take on more of a leadership role on the Energy and Commerce panel, where he has worked on energy, education and health care issues, said spokesman Alon Kupferman.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, who helped spearhead Democrats' efforts to win the House, declined to speculate in advance of final election results on what role he might pursue. He sits on the Judiciary, Education and Government Reform panels.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, will have a hand in likely efforts to step up oversight of Bush administration policies. But he is leaving his options open, his office said.

In the Senate, Barbara A. Mikulski, now the senior member of the state delegation, retains a powerful spot as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, and continues to serve on the Intelligence, Defense and Health panels.

The election might not change much for Maryland's two House Republicans, Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest.

But it could propel Gilchrest- who often splits with his party - to new stature as a centrist whose vote is coveted by both parties in a closely divided House.

julie.davis@baltsun.com

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