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Murtha Interested in Majority Leader Post

By JIM ABRAMS
The Associated Press
Friday, June 9, 2006; 11:04 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Murtha, a 16-term Democrat known for his close ties to the military and his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, said Friday he will run for House majority leader if Democrats win control in November.

Murtha, 73, wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues that he would seek the post "if we prevail, as I hope and know we will, and return to the majority this next Congress."

"I would appreciate your consideration and vote and look forward to speaking to you personally about my decision," he wrote.

Murtha, regarded as a close ally of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, has taken his party's lead in demanding an early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He served in Vietnam as a Marine and he has a reputation in Congress as a strong friend of the military.

It was not immediately clear if Murtha had discussed his decision to run for the party post with Pelosi.

Democrats need to gain 15 seats to recapture the majority they lost to the Republicans in 1994.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Ron Bonjean, said: "This is fantastic news for the Democrats' imaginary land of a make-believe majority. We hope it captures their attention for a while."

If Democrats do win back the House, Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to become the speaker and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the current Democratic whip, is in line to become the majority leader, the House's No. 2 post.

"Mr. Hoyer has worked extraordinarily hard to unify the caucus and take back the House for Democrats and that is his first focus," said his press secretary, Stacey Farnen Bernard. "As a result of that unity he is confident that we will be successful in November and intends to run for majority leader."

She said Hoyer believes his work as whip and in other Democratic leadership posts "has earned him the support of the overwhelming majority of House Democrats."

"This is a distraction at a time when our focus should be on incumbents and winning back the House," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif, a Hoyer ally. "This takes away from our ability to focus on those efforts."

Murtha, coming from the working-class district around Johnstown, has strong ties with organized labor. He is more conservative than many of his Democratic colleagues on other issues, opposing abortion rights and backing gun owner rights.

© 2006 The Associated Press