Although the main focus has been on the nasty sniping between Murtha and Hoyer, the unspoken story is the long-simmering rivalry between Pelosi and Hoyer. The two have known each other more than 40 years --since, as young, ambitious Maryland natives, they interned for then-Sen. Daniel B. Brewster.
At one time they were friends, but their ambitions eventually put them on a collision course. Pelosi nominated Hoyer in a 1991 House leadership race and was one of his lieutenants. But in 2001, the two ran against each other in a protracted and nasty race for minority whip. Pelosi won handily, but her allies charge that Hoyer never stopped running for the next prize and along the way tried to undercut her authority. Hoyer has said he has never been anything but supportive of Pelosi.
On the upside, Hoyer seems like he's an excellent wartime consigliere. He lined up his votes well in advance and has managed to stay largely above the fray while Murtha looks worse and worse. Hoyers got good support among the Blue Dog Democrats even though Murtha generally votes more conservatively (outside of his early call for Iraq withdrawal). Murtha's complaints that he's being "swift-boated" by ethics watchdog groups seem mostly to indicate that Hoyer has took the time to get his opposition research down. I certainly don't approve of the original "swift-boating" or the attacks on Murtha's patriotism. However, when he's caught on tape saying he won't take a bribe "at this time" or deriding our coming ethics bill while saying he's going to pass it anyways, it lends credence to the ethics charges.
In fairness, Hoyer is too cozy with lobbyist on K-street. I wonder if that means I'll see him someday when walking to work. He supported the terrible bankrupcy reform bill and has opposed net neutrality. So despite sharing a state I'm not incredibly enthused about him. Murtha also supported the bankrupcy bill although I can't find any take on net neutrality.
Anyways, the larger issue is who the better fighter is at the moment. Bipartisan cooperation with the Bush administration is a crock. Since the election he's trying again to get his abrasive U.N. secretary, one of his hacks, and his conservative judges through a lame duck Congress. I generally think supporting some dodgy bills is far less likely to seriously bite us in the ass than will personal ethics issue. In the larger sense, Hoyer has done a good job as whip I think and if he wins this fight against the strong opposition of Pelosi that means he knows how to line up the votes. I don't buy the argument that personal loyalty to the speaker is an important criteria. I'd prefer someone that will argue behind the scenes when appropriate while maintaining the outward appearance of unity, as apparently happened over the last two years.