Steny Hoyer collecting liberal support in his bid for minority whip

Republicans recaptured control of the House and made gains in the Senate on Tuesday night, sparking celebrations across the country.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 11:01 PM

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) continued Tuesday to collect high-profile endorsements from his party's liberal wing in his bid to become House minority whip, trying to counter the impression that his candidacy is built around support from moderate-to-conservative Democrats.

Seven Democratic committee chairmen issued a letter Tuesday endorsing Hoyer's candidacy for the No. 2 post in the minority leadership, including three leading liberals: Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman (Calif.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (Mass.) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (Calif.).

Supporters of Hoyer, currently the majority leader, have touted his momentum in his campaign against Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), unveiling a string of key endorsements. With Tuesday's letter, first reported by Politico, Hoyer now has nearly 50 public endorsements, almost half of the roughly 95 supporters he will need to win the secret ballot next week.

Clyburn, currently the majority whip, the No. 3 post in the majority, has about 10 public endorsements but is expected to collect the lion's share of the 40 or so members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He has won some key support, including an endorsement Monday by Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), the highest-ranking Latino member of the congressional leadership.

Last week's Republican election victories will result next year in the smallest Democratic caucus since 1948. With life in the minority meaning one less elected leadership position, Hoyer and Clyburn have been thrown into a contest that some have viewed through an ideological prism and that has left Democrats with a difficult choice between two veterans who are, by and large, well liked.

Hoyer has long been the leader with the most trust from Democrats in the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and the moderate New Democrat Coalition, while Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in congressional history, is viewed as a staunch liberal.

Eliminating Hoyer from the leadership could be portrayed as a move to the left at a time when independent and centrist voters have fled the Democrats. Eliminating Clyburn could risk angering the Congressional Black Caucus just as President Obama begins ramping up for his 2012 reelection bid and looking to reenergize black voters, who turned out in record numbers in 2008.

Beneath the surface, however, both Hoyer and Clyburn can claim liberal roots. According to annual rankings by the National Journal, Hoyer's voting record last year scored as 83 percent liberal, which made him the 65th most liberal member of the House. Put in context: Among more than 255 Democrats in the 111th Congress, Hoyer was in the most liberal 25 percent.

His voting record is ranked alongside those of Rep. John B. Larson (Conn.), currently the No. 4 Democratic leader; Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who founded the Populist Caucus last year; and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the leader of the Progressive Caucus.

Clyburn can claim to be more liberal, based on the National Journal's rankings, which take into account the most important votes of the year. In 2009, he had a 91 percent liberal rating; there were just 13 lawmakers more liberal than Clyburn.

(Notably, in the election year of 2008, both lawmakers voted far more conservatively, with Clyburn rated 79 percent liberal and Hoyer 74 percent, placing them 88th and 124th, respectively, in the liberal rankings.)

With only slight distinctions between Hoyer's and Clyburn's actual voting records, some lawmakers and senior aides favor an approach that would keep both men in the leadership, with Clyburn bumping down to caucus chairman, the No. 3 post next year. That would require Larson to be given a different spot, as well.

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