The vote count is in: Steny Hoyer defeated Jack Murtha 149 to 86 for the majority leader post in the House.

There’s no way to spin this: this was a big loss for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The vote wasn’t close. Her ally was rejected. This reflects poorly on her. And it will be remembered by her political opponents–particularly those who want to undermine Pelosi’s efforts to enact lobbying and campaign reform–that in this contest she endorsed a fellow who has long been accused of slippery ethics. (See the posting below.)

Moreover, Murtha, the candidate with the most ardent antiwar credentials, lost–and did so decisively. How will this be interpreted (or exploited) by pundits and politicos who oppose the Pelosi/Murtha call for the withdrawal of troops? Murtha champions did try to turn the majority leader race into a debate on the Iraq war. Can the vote be read as an indicator that many House Democrats don’t support Pelosi all the way on her opposition to the war?

It certainly is true that these sort of leadership races are often decided (via a secret ballot) not by ideological issues but by personal and managerial factors. Think of it this way: how would you vote if you could vote for one of your bosses? You might not pick the person who agrees with you on policy matters. You might select the guy or gal with whom you have–or could have–the best personal relationship. Or whom you think would be more effective as a manager. Or whom you owe a favor.

Still, this vote will be depicted as a slam on Pelosi and on the start-withdrawing-now Democrats. (It perhaps did show that Pelosi has to improve her vote-counting skills.) Pelosi did not have to choose sides in this fight. But because she fiercely lobbied her fellow House Democrats for Murtha–after first saying she would remain neutral in this bitter battle–she begins her tenure as speaker with a loss that was self-inflicted. Now she moves on to what might be a harder task than getting her fellow Democrats to elect Murtha her No. 2: forging a Democratic alternative to George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq.


DON”T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris “the most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations” and “fascinating reading.” The Washington Post says, “There have been many books about the Iraq war….This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” Tom Brokaw notes Hubris “is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.