HOYER vs. MURTHA….Matt Yglesias makes an underappreciated point about the race between Steny Hoyer and John Murtha to become House Majority Leader in the 110th Congress: Murtha is not exactly a progressive superstar. He gets a lot of well-deserved credit for his principled anti-war stance, but it’s worth taking a closer look at the reason for his turnaround on the war as well as his broader political agenda.

Generally speaking, Murtha is pretty hawkish. Like Hoyer, he voted for the Iraq war resolution, but unlike Hoyer, a year later he said he favored a draft in order to keep the war going: “We can?t sustain a one front war for any length of time,” he told The Hill. “You can make the deployment but you can?t sustain it because we have so many worldwide commitments, so I?m for the draft.” Murtha’s current opposition to the war seems to stem more from a narrow belief that the military is overstretched than from any broader commitment to a more progressive foreign policy.

On both economic and social issues he’s more conservative than Hoyer (who is himself already in the rightward half of the Democratic caucus). He’s pro-gun and anti-abortion (0% from NARAL!). And while I’m annoyed that Hoyer voted for the bankruptcy bill last year, Murtha voted for it too. Matt pointed out that Murtha is more conservative than Hoyer based on Keith Poole’s computer-generated models, and that matches up with National Journal’s more traditional rankings for 2005 based on roll call votes (see below).

I don’t really have any big axe to grind here. Hoyer is too close to K Street for my taste, and both Hoyer and Murtha are more conservative than I’d like. I appreciate Murtha’s anti-war stand, but since it’s based more on troop issues than on progressive foreign policy principles I’m not sure how happy I’m likely to be with his future positions on national security issues. Bottom line: This race is probably a bit of a tossup, but I wouldn’t leap into bed with Murtha too quickly just because he took on Bush over Iraq. He’s not exactly a progressive dream candidate.

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