Pelosi had instead endorsed longtime ally Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, but the vote wasn't even close: Hoyer trounced Murtha by an overwhelming 149 to 86.
Democrats Thursday voting to fill in the blanks for their party's leadership roles when they officially take control of Congress in January selected James Clyburn of South Carolina as Majority Whip, the No. 3 leadership post. Clyburn is the second black in history to rise that high in the party leadership: former Rep. William Gray of Pennsylvania held the same title from 1989-91.
Campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois will be chairman of the Democratic Caucus, the No. 4 party leadership position in the House - a reward for his efforts in leading the party back into the majority in his role as chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Also Thursday, House Republicans, soon to be in the minority for the first time since 1994, met in private to hear presentations from candidates for their party's leadership posts. Their election is set for Friday, with the spotlight on what has evolved into a race between Majority Leader John Boehner and and Rep. Mike Pence, to fill the House GOP leadership role being vacated by Rep. Dennis Hastert.
Among the Democrats, for Hoyer, the vote that will make him House Majority Leader was a personal triumph.
This wasn't really about politics or policy, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss. It was personal, about power and loyalty. Hoyer was the longtime number two, with strong support and had been widely expected to move up. Pelosi nonetheless endorsed Murtha, a leading voice against the Iraq war who has been more loyal to her over the years.
Asked if she regrets the decision to take sides in the leadership race, Pelosi said Thursday: "I am not a person who has regrets."
"Steny [Hoyer] knows that I have to be who I am," she added. "I am a person who is committed to ending this war."
Hoyer meanwhile is expressing his enthusiasm for the road ahead. "Our caucus is unified today," said Hoyer. "I intend to do everything in my power to make Pelosi the most effective Speaker in the history of the Congress."
"Nancy and I have worked together for four years, closely and effectively, and we have created the most unified caucus in the last half century," said Hoyer. "It was not that somebody was rejected today, it was that a team - that had been successful - was asked to continue to do that job."
Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey, who will chair the Appropriations Committee, said the divisions exposed by the leadership contest will not be a problem for Pelosi.
"There's such universal respect and affection for Nancy. She's gutsy as hell and she's willing to take a chance... push the envelope," said Obey. "It was bitter between the two candidates, I suppose, but it wasn't bitter among the members of the caucus. People get over this stuff."
Murtha, who had been jockeying for position with Hoyer for months, kept his comments at a minimum Thursday, deadpanning that he will now "go back to my small subcommittee."
It's really not that small.
Murtha will chair the powerful defense subcommittee with responsibility for the war in Iraq and the Pentagon budget. "Nancy asked me to set a policy for the Democratic Party, said Murtha, referring to pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. "Most of the party signed onto it."