Murtha v Hoyer?

MURTHA V HOYER?….Obviously, the midterm elections are still five months away, but since there’s at least a real possibility that Democrats will take back the House, it’s only natural for there to be some behind-the-scenes jockeying for leadership roles — just in case.

Last week, there were some rumors that DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel could make a run for Speaker, or if the party fell short of the majority, Minority Leader, but Emanuel dismissed the talk and the caucus continues to support Nancy Pelosi. But what about the #2 job? Subscription-only Roll Call reports a surprising development this afternoon.

In a move that figures to throw the Democratic Caucus into a contentious and volatile leadership battle just as the mid-term election season is heating up, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has announced his plans to run for Majority Leader if the Democrats reclaim the House this fall.

“Our goal is to win the House back and if there’s an open seat, I’m the candidate,” the 73-year-old Pennsylvanian said in a statement.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office confirmed to TNR’s Michael Crowley that Hoyer, whom everyone has assumed would move up if the midterms went the party’s way, would also run for Majority Leader. A senior Democratic aide also told Crowley that Murtha’s announcement could become a “huge diversion” and that the party shouldn’t get “distracted with a leadership race” right now.

I realize that if Murtha is going to mount a serious challenge, he’ll need to start lining up support early on, but it’d be a shame if House Democrats spent the next several months squabbling over leadership posts that might not even be available if they don’t focus on reclaiming the majority.

Crowley concluded, “This could get ugly.” I think that’s a safe bet.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.