WASHINGTON – A member of the Maryland congressional delegation is positioned to become the second-most powerful Democrat in the House, in a post- election shakeup of the Democratic leadership.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said he will run for the minority whip position, a job Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is leaving in her bid for the now- vacant minority leader position.
Hoyer said he has the support of 175 of the House’s 208 Democrats and, so far, no opponent. He has been angling for the job for years, currying favor with Democratic congressional candidates this year by donating significant amounts of time and money to their campaigns.
The Center for Responsive Politics said Hoyer gave $610,475 to other candidates in this election cycle, the fourth-most of any congressman, and he stumped in more than 20 congressional districts.
“You not only round it (whip votes) up on the inside but from the outside as well,” said Frank DeFilippo, a political commentator for WBAL Radio. “Heavy contributors can play a role in it.”
The biggest donor to other candidates was Pelosi, who is running against Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, for the minority leader job that is being vacated by Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Frost was 12th on the list of candidate-to-candidate donors.
DeFilippo called the whip job “one of those anonymous, inside-baseball positions” that carry more weight within the party than with the public. The whip, as the name suggests, is responsible for rounding up votes on key issues and bringing members of the caucus together.
Should Hoyer get the job, DeFilippo said, it would give the state bragging rights but will not significantly improve Maryland’s legislative fortunes.
“Basically, what they do is round up votes,” DeFilippo said. “People outside the beltway rarely know what whip does.”
But Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, said the position would bring Hoyer into the fold on key legislative decisions and into contact with the White House. This increased access can only help Hoyer serve his district, said Cardin, who is managing Hoyer’s whip campaign.
Hoyer conceded that most of his constituents “really won’t care what the whip does. What they care about is how effective can their representative be on behalf of issues they feel are important. As the second-ranking Democrat, I will have increased ability to serve my district.”
A win will be redemption for Hoyer, who has twice run unsuccessfully for whip. Last year, he lost to Pelosi 118 to 95, and in 1991 he lost to then-Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., 160 to 109.
Hoyer and his supporters credit his previous bids as proof that he has paid his dues and it’s now his turn. They noted that it is unusual for someone to run opposed for whip.
“He is going to get it,” Cardin said. “Steny got a lot of good will in the last two races and it will be reflected from his congressional caucus.”
Hoyer will not endorse either Pelosi or Frost for minority leader, but is generally seen as a moderate. He blames Democratic losses in Tuesday’s elections on the party’s inability to communicate its message to voters nationwide.
“There is no doubt that the president was successful in nationalizing the election and focusing the electorate on the war with Iraq,” Hoyer said. “It was not a result of people not agreeing with us on the issues, but we were not successful in communicating our message.”