11/09/2010 11:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jim Clyburn, Self-Proclaimed Underdog, Ramps Up Efforts In Leadership Fight

WASHINGTON -- As Majority Leader Steny Hoyer rallies increasing support around his efforts to become the next House minority whip, James Clyburn, the current House majority whip, has ramped up his own campaign.

Clyburn cast himself as the underdog in the contest, adding that he and Hoyer will remain friends regardless of how the leadership contest turns out.

"I probably am the underdog in this race," said Clyburn in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday. "I've been here 18 years. Steny's been here 30 years. He has his friends. I have mine. And Steny and I are friends."

Last night Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, became the first member of leadership to endorse Clyburn, telling HuffPost Hill that Clyburn found Democrats the votes when they needed them most.

"Through some of the toughest legislative efforts in recent history -- from health care to Wall Street reform -- Mr. Clyburn found us the votes when they counted most. He fought to pass legislation that is putting America back to work and laying the foundation for a future where America leads the world in the new energy economy. He is a stalwart supporter of fixing our broken immigration system and providing every American a decent education and an equal shot at the American Dream."

Clyburn has also been endorsed by Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television. Johnson sent a letter to members of House leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus Monday, urging them to back Clyburn in his bid for whip.

To force Clyburn out of leadership, Johnson suggests in his letter, could mean losing the black vote.

To diminish his leadership role in Congress would run the risk of losing a significant part of the Black vote, a decision the Democratic Party cannot afford at this most critical time in history.

Black voters are the strongest voting bloc and have continuously shown their dedication to the Democratic Party. As a constituency, African Americans are engaged in our country's political process now more than ever and Congressman Clyburn is the voice and face that we need to lead the Democratic Party in the Congress.

Back on Capitol Hill, Clyburn has secured the support of Reps. Barbara Lee, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Lynn Woolsey, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Lee also sent a letter to House Democrats Monday, urging them to support Clyburn and arguing that Democratic leadership needs more diversity.