WASHINGTON – Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, thought he had at least 106 votes among House Democrats to be their next whip, the No. 2 position in the 215-member caucus.
But Hoyer was soundly defeated in a secret caucus vote Wednesday, losing the whip’s job 118-95 to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Two members did not vote.
“That’s a bad miscount. You have to be able to count votes better than that, because that’s what the whip does,” said Frank Defilippo, a political analyst for the Baltimore Business Journal and WBAL radio, who said the outcome was probably only a surprise to Hoyer.
The vote capped months of campaigning by Hoyer and Pelosi, and marked the second loss for Hoyer, who ran unsuccessfully 10 years ago against the outgoing whip, Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich. The whip helps to gather votes along party lines, as well as raise funds for the party and estimate vote counts.
But it was not expected to translate into a loss of stature or power for Hoyer, who pledged immediately after the vote to work with Pelosi.
“We haven’t lost what he had, but perhaps there was an opportunity to gain more than what we had,” said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo.
Defilippo and other experts said that Hoyer did nothing wrong in the days leading up to the election — Pelosi simply had more advantages.
“I just think the Democratic caucus on the Hill is more disposed to a liberal woman than what I would call a more centrist white male,” said Blair Lee, a political columnist for the Montgomery Journal.
Lee said that, unlike the voting public, the parties tend to elect more extreme candidates, making Pelosi more attractive.
But Pelosi was also able to attract conservatives because her campaign manager was Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a leading moderate, said Eric Uslaner, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Pelosi is the first woman to rise so high in House Democratic ranks. Born in Baltimore, she is the daughter and sister of former city mayors, and her father was a five-term member of the House.
Both Hoyer and Pelosi are known for their fund-raising ability, but Defilippo said Pelosi was the “money machine,” which helped her in her race.
She was also helped by the fact that her adopted state of California has 32 Democrats in the House, compared to the four from Maryland.
“If you take away the two home states, then Steny Hoyer wins this election,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert. “But she had the home field advantage because of the size of California.”
Miller said that Hoyer, as a moderate Democrat, represented a far larger portion of the public than Pelosi. The caucus’ choice could strain relations with conservative Democrats in the Midwest and the South, and possibly reduce the chances of Democrats regaining control of the House in 2002.
“This is a huge loss for the Democratic Party,” Miller said. “Whichever party gets to the people is going to be the party that prevails.”
Lee said the loss could make Hoyer more likely to run for the Senate, should either of Maryland’s senators step down. But Uslaner noted that “political careers have died in Maryland while waiting for a Senate seat.”
Defilippo said he thinks this race for whip, Hoyer’s second, will also be his last.
“I think his time is passed” he said. “He was seen as the wonder kid years ago, and now he’s one of the old boys over there.”