(Recasts with surgeon general vote)

By Susan Cornwell

Dec 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate confirmed thelong-delayed nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon generalon Monday, as Democrats pushed to approve some of PresidentBarack Obama's stalled choices for government posts beforeRepublicans take power in Congress next year.

Obama's pick for the top U.S. public health job was approved51-43. Earlier, Murthy barely cleared a procedural hurdle afterhe drew opposition over his support for stricter gunregulations.

Obama applauded the Senate and said in a statement thatMurthy would "help us build on the progress we've made combatingEbola, both in our country and at its source."

The Senate will vote on Tuesday on another contentiousnominee, Sarah Saldana. Her nomination to head the Immigrationand Customs Enforcement office became bogged down after she saidthe president's executive action on immigration was legal.

The Senate scheduled votes on Murthy, Saldana and threeother nominees for Monday and Tuesday as part of Majority LeaderHarry Reid's push to get nominations through the Senate beforeit goes home for the year.

Reid hopes to move about 20 more nominees later this week ina process he started over the weekend, when delaying tactics byconservative Republicans on a government spending bill kept theSenate in session unexpectedly and gave him an opening.

Last year, Democrats infuriated Republicans by changingSenate rules so government nominations can advance toconfirmation votes by a simple majority of the 100-memberSenate, rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

Still, some nominations have languished. Obama nominatedMurthy a year ago, but some Republicans and the National RifleAssociation criticized his gun-control views. Senator Ted Cruz,a conservative Republican, called Murthy an "anti-gun activist."

Murthy, who has been working as an internal medicinephysician in Boston, also advocated the Affordable Care Act,Obama's signature health initiative and anathema to mostRepublicans.

Supporters of Murthy noted more than 100 public healthorganizations endorsed him, calling him a "well qualified,forward-thinking, innovative leader with a strong commitment topublic health."

"Does that sound like a political hack when 100organizations say that about this doctor?" said Senator DickDurbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Two other nominees cleared procedural votes Monday: DanielSantos to serve on the Defense Nuclear Facilities board, andFrank Rose as assistant secretary of state.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Saldana and AntonyBlinken, nominated for the No. 2 post in the State Department. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by John Whitesides, LisaVon Ahn and Lisa Shumaker)