Democratic Leadership Battle? Murtha Seeking Majority Leader Post

Outspoken Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha is looking for a promotion. A senior aide to the Democratic leadership told ABC News the Marine veteran wants to become majority leader in the House if Democrats regain control this fall.

It's a move that may throw the Democratic Caucus into a contentious leadership battle as the midterm election season heats up.

Until now, it was presumed Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland would move up from his position when California Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the new speaker. But Murtha's interest in the majority leader seat could change that scenario.

"Murtha has always been a darling of the more conservative members of the caucus, but his recent leadership of the anti-war movement has won him wide praise among more liberal members as well," someone close to the deliberations told ABC News.

Last November, Murtha began calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. Murtha was also the first congressman to speak out on the allegations of a massacre by U.S. troops in the city Haditha.

While Murtha's gambit is a direct challenge to Hoyer, many Democrats believe the Pennsylvania congressman would be a candidate for minority leader if the Democrats don't take over the House in midterm elections.

Stacey Bernards, a spokeswoman for Rep. Hoyer, told ABC News in a statement, "Mr. Hoyer has worked extraordinarily hard to unify the caucus and take back the House for Democrats, and that is his first focus. As a result of that unity, he is confident that we will be successful in November and intends to run for majority leader."

Some Democratic members of the House say that it's too early to be jockeying for leadership positions.

California Rep. Dennis Cardoza, who is the co-chair for communications of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate-to-conservative House Democrats, said, "This is a distraction at a time when our focus should be on incumbents and winning back the house. This takes away from our ability to focus on those efforts."