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Scramble is on to replace Congressional leaders

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert's decision to return to the back benches after Republicans lost their majority in Tuesday's midterm election has set off a scramble for the job of House GOP leader.

And at least two lawmakers are considering challenging current Majority Leader John Boehner.

Meanwhile, with current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi set to assume the speakership in January, House Democrats will battle for majority leader. (Watch Pelosi talk about changes in the House -- 12:45 Video)

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, now the minority whip, and Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, an ardent critic of the Iraq war, are expected to face off.

"With this historic election, Americans have told us they do not want a rubber-stamp Congress," Murtha said, announcing his candidacy. "They want leaders who are willing to recognize when we are headed in the wrong direction and are not resistant to changing that direction."

Murtha, from southwestern Pennsylvania, raised eyebrows in June when he announced that he would challenge Hoyer for majority leader if Democrats won the election. But he dropped his bid after colleagues complained it was premature and could divide their caucus.

Hoyer, from suburban Washington, has been minority whip since 2002. He said he is "very confident" of his support among Democratic lawmakers.

"I believe that it is imperative that our next majority have the skills, ability and energy to reach out to every element of our diverse caucus so that we may achieve consensus," he said. "I believe that I have established a strong track record in all of these areas over the last four years."

Also Tuesday, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, chairman of the Democratic caucus and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he would bid to be majority whip.

House Democrats have set November 16 as the date for elections for their new leadership. House Republicans will choose a leader the next day.

Hastert announced Tuesday that he would not seek the post of minority leader in the next Congress, although he will continue as an Illinois representative.

Other lawmakers want leadership roles

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana said he would challenge Boehner for the minority leader's job, and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said he was "actively considering" a similar bid.

Pence, from a district in eastern Indiana, is a leading conservative voice in the House as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 Republican Congress members formed "to advance a social and economic conservative agenda."

In a letter to his colleagues Wednesday, he said he was afraid Republicans "didn't just lose our majority."

He wrote, "I believe we lost our way."

"Only by making a dramatic turn in the direction of the agenda of the Republican Revolution can we hope to attain majority status again," Pence said. "We must again embrace the notion the Republicans seek power not simply to govern but change government."

Barton, who represents a district in east-central Texas and is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he and his GOP colleagues "now have some difficult decisions to make."

"Within the living memory of all of us, Republicans were on track to become a permanent majority," he said in a statement. "Now, some say the train has outrun the tracks, that Republicans seemed to care more about the smoke and fire in the engine than who was in the cars and where we were taking them."

Boehner, who represents a southwest Ohio district, also sent a blunt letter to his colleagues in which he sounded a theme of reform and admitted his party "took a pounding" Tuesday.

"Our voters stopped thinking of us as the party of principle because we lost our commitment to, and confidence in, our core principles," he said. "As I see it, our chief challenge will be to find new ways to articulate these core principles in ways that reflect both the values Americans hold dear and the practical challenges they face."

Boehner was elected to the majority leader's post in February, after former Rep. Tom DeLay resigned to fight state money laundering charges in Texas.

Boehner's surprise win against Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri was seen as a move by the GOP rank-and-file toward a fresh face and a change of direction.

However, the behavior of some House Republicans became an issue after revelations that some of them knew that former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida was sending lurid text messages to underage pages for months before it became public.

Conservative critics within the party have also complained that the leadership had become more interested in retaining power than adhering to Republican principles. Some have said Republicans were spending to excess.

Exit polls reflected those sentiments, with 54 percent of voters expressing dissatisfaction or anger with GOP leaders. More than three-quarters of that group voted Democratic.

Fifty-three percent also said they disapproved of the way the Republican leadership handled the Foley scandal.

Change in Senate leadership

At the Senate, the GOP leadership will also undergo a shake-up, with the retirement of Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Tuesday's defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Santorum was the chairman of the Republican conference and the party's third most powerful person in the Senate.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is widely expected to run for Frist's post. But so far, there have been no formal announcements of any leadership campaigns.

Senate Democrats, who are poised to take control, aren't expected to make any major changes in their leadership lineup.

If they secure a majority, Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would become majority leader, and Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois would become majority whip.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, now the minority whip, is expected to vie for majority leader in the House.



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