If the election for House Majority Leader becomes a referendum on corruption, Jack Murtha loses, despite his opponent Steny Hoyer’s numerous ties to K Street lobbyists.

That’s why Murtha sent out a press release today reaffirming his opposition to the Iraq war–and Hoyer’s support for it.

“Of the critical issues we are faced with today, the war in Iraq is the most crucial,” Murtha wrote. “The Pelosi-Murtha position on the war is the reason the Democrats are in the majority today. Congressman Hoyer’s position has been to stay the course with President Bush from the very beginning and, like Senator John McCain, he advocates sending in more troops.”

Hoyer’s office vehemently disagreed with such a characterization.

“Congressman Hoyer and Congressman Murtha have joined other Democratic leaders from both the House and Senate in signing three letters to the President that outline the consensus among Democrats regarding Iraq,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, Hoyer’s press secretary. “Any representation that Congressman Hoyer endorses a ‘stay-the-course’ strategy or advocates sending more troops to Iraq is wrong.”

In reality, Hoyer did disparage Murtha after the Pennsylvania Democrat broke with the Bush Administration’s policy on the war last November. “I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster,” Hoyer wrote on November 30, “spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility. I still believe that we can–and that we must–achieve success in Iraq.”

Since then, Hoyer has edged away from his support of the war, emphasizing his unity with the Democratic caucus. And antiwar liberals have thus far split on who to support. Rep. Maxine Waters, head of the Out of Iraq Caucus, is backing Hoyer. In a letter sent yesterday, a group of progressive Democrats backing Hoyer cited his commitment to raising the minimum wage and support for civil rights, reproductive freedom and the environment as decisive factors.

Other Democrats who support a withdrawal from Iraq, however, are sticking with Murtha, including Pelosi. Said Washington Rep. Jim McDermott: “Jack was the first one in the center of the caucus who came out and said we, have to move. Guys like me who were against the war from the very start were waiting until somebody emerged…Without Jack, we would not be in power today.”

The war in Iraq helped swing the midterm election toward the Democrats. The jury is still out on whether it will decide who leads the party as well.