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Hoyer Courted for Gov. Run

Senior Maryland Democrats have recently undertaken an effort to persuade Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to enter that state’s 2006 gubernatorial race, but knowledgeable sources say the No. 2 House Democrat is disinclined to abandon his leadership post and a 24-year Congressional career.

A Hoyer campaign for governor would send shock waves through the Democratic Caucus, especially if the veteran lawmaker opted to give up his senior leadership position to focus on the race.

A handful of ambitious Democratic Members are eagerly awaiting the chance to run for an open leadership slot, which could otherwise be years away. One senior Democratic House staffer said a “frenzy” among lawmakers would likely ensue if Hoyer were to step aside.

Sources in Washington and Annapolis said Monday that some top Maryland Democrats have been urging Hoyer to take a serious look at the race, arguing he is the best candidate to gain consensus in the party and mount a formidable campaign to knock off sitting Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). Those sources say many officials worry the other Democrats positioning themselves for the race — Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan — would wage a brutal primary contest that could set the once-dominant party back for years.

“The push is hard and heavy” for Hoyer to run, said a knowledgeable Maryland Democratic official.

Hoyer’s camp said of the speculation: “Mr. Hoyer is totally focused on taking back the House and he has no plans to run for anything other than re-election and House Majority Leader when Democrats are back in the majority in 2007,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, Hoyer’s spokeswoman.

And Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said his longtime friend has made clear his interest is in the House, and Hoyer said as much in a private meeting with senior Maryland officials Monday morning.

“I have known Steny for at least 20 years and if Steny were running for governor, you would know it by now,” Cummings said. “He’s the kind of person you wouldn’t have to convince.

“I think his position is he wants to make sure there’s a Democrat in the governor’s office, and I think he would be satisfied with Duncan or O’Malley.”

Hoyer, 65, is unproven as a statewide entity, but many insiders believe he offers something the two leading Democratic candidates don’t: maturity. Both O’Malley and Duncan are in their 40s, and while they are both considered accomplished politicians, neither has Hoyer’s experience.

Hoyer also has the potential to do well in southern Maryland, a region that is trending Republican and may be out of reach to Duncan and O’Malley in a statewide race with Ehrlich.

Ehrlich’s victory in 2002 — the first by a GOP candidate for governor in Maryland since 1966 — sent Democrats in the state reeling. Ehrlich has already amassed more than $5 million in his campaign war chest for 2006, and recent polls have shown him leading Duncan and running even with O’Malley.

Several sources on and off Capitol Hill said Hoyer may be willing to leave the door to a gubernatorial bid open a crack because he is so deeply invested in the success of the Maryland Democratic Party and its ability to win back the governor’s mansion. But, those sources were quick to add that the prospects remain very slim that Hoyer would give up his Congressional tenure and a role in the House he enjoys to take on an uncertain and arduous campaign.

“I’m sure he’s assessing the situation to see if there’s an opportunity there,” said a knowledgeable Democratic source. “His position in the Caucus as a top leader is significant and giving that up comes at a great risk. I’m sure he’d make a great governor, but he’s made a great Democratic Whip and a great leader.

“It would be a great loss to the Caucus.”

Speculation has been mounting about Hoyer’s future since the Maryland General Assembly kicked off its session more than a week ago. Hoyer met privately at that time with state Democratic leaders, including Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.

“Many people are reaching out,” said a Maryland Democratic campaign operative.

The governorship aside, Maryland political sources said Hoyer is getting more involved with state politics and policy discussions than he has in recent years.

“He certainly is asserting his role as convener of elected officials in Maryland,” said one knowledgeable Democratic strategist.

Hoyer has been instrumental in organizing regular meetings of the Maryland Democratic Party’s State Advisory Group, which consists of the state’s two Senators, its six Democratic House Members, Miller, Busch, the state comptroller, the state attorney general, O’Malley, the state’s five Democratic county executives and the new party chairman, Terry Lierman.

“For the first time, you could say we’re all working together developing common themes, a common to-do list and common goals, which is electing a Democratic governor and as many Democrats as we can throughout the state of Maryland,” said Lierman, whose own bid for party chairman was boosted — perhaps decisively — by Hoyer in late 2004.

“Hoyer hates Ehrlich and hates the fact that we don’t have a Democratic governor,” noted one person familiar with the discussions.

Hoyer, a centrist and well-liked Member, is viewed as a House institutionalist and a fixture in Maryland politics. He was first elected to the Maryland Senate in 1966 at age 27 and rose quickly in both the Senate leadership and Maryland politics, serving as president of the chamber and later mounting an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.

Many observers say Hoyer has long had his eye on serving as House Majority Leader or even Speaker on Capitol Hill. But with Democrats deeper in the minority and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) entrenched as Democratic leader, some now speculate Hoyer may be willing to at least take a look at another political option.

“Who wants to be in the minority?” asked one Democratic strategist. “There’s only so much we can do” in D.C.

Hoyer ascended to Minority Whip in 2002 and has won high marks for his ability to tally votes and keep the party unified. Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) have both expressed interest in moving into higher leadership if the opportunity came available.

Several other Members are also viewed as interested in vying for leadership openings, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), John Larson (Conn.), Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Diana DeGette (Colo.) and John Lewis (Ga.). Lewis currently serves as Hoyer’s Senior Chief Deputy Whip.

“Obviously, there would be a domino effect — as much as there would have been with us winning the majority,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

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