Blunt, Boehner Remain as Field For Majority Leader Narrows

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The race for House majority leader turned into a two-man contest between acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, as two other potential candidates took themselves out of the running yesterday.

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (Calif.) announced they would not run for any leadership post. Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.), a conservative who has maintained cordial ties with House leaders and moderates, was still mulling whether to jump in.

If Blunt wins, a second race would be held to fill his current job, the number three post of House majority whip. Reps. Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) said yesterday they will run for that position, challenging Rep. Eric I. Cantor (Va.), the chief deputy whip, who is the front-runner for the position.

Cantor claimed 140 committed votes, more than enough to win the whip race, but allies of Rogers and Tiahrt said many of those lawmakers gave their word to Cantor before alternatives had emerged. The leadership vote, slated for Feb. 2, will be by secret ballot, meaning that no commitment is really firm.

House Republican aides and sources in all the camps said the race to reshape the party leadership is wide open since Rep. Tom DeLay (Tex.) announced over the weekend that he would not attempt to reclaim the majority leader post while under indictment in Texas on charges of campaign money laundering.

Without explanation, the highest criminal court in Texas yesterday denied DeLay's request that the charges be dismissed or be sent to a lower court for an immediate trial. DeLay had hoped for a speedy resolution of his case so that he could reclaim the leadership post, but it appears his growing legal problems could take months to work out.

The race to succeed him is likely to shape up as a contest between candidates preaching the need for change in the face of a widening corruption scandal and those calling for unity, continuity and competence.

"Leadership races are very hard to handicap," said former majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), adding that this one is particularly tricky, given the disappointment and anger over the spreading corruption scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "Politicians are not good at managing their disappointment," he said.

Boehner released a 37-page manifesto, asserting that the Republican Party is "stuck in neutral and hesitant to push the accelerator."

"We seem adrift, uncomfortable with our ability to reach big goals and unsure about what we stand for as a Conference," Boehner wrote in a document that had been in preparation for weeks. "Lacking a common vision that expresses our hopes for what America can still become and our shared commitment to realizing those hopes, we've fallen into a dangerous and demoralizing cycle of the status quo, where we struggle instead of strive."

Boehner aides released what they described as a partial list of 13 declared supporters, heavy on lawmakers from Boehner's home state of Ohio and neighboring Kentucky, but also with Southerners such as Reps. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (La.) and J. Gresham Barrett (S.C.) and low-key back-benchers such as Reps. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) and Jim Saxton (N.J.). Also working on his behalf are former aides now in the lobbying world.

Blunt countered with 22 names, from moderate Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) to conservative Rep. Sue Myrick (N.C.), with many others closely aligned with the current leadership. Supporters said the acting majority leader and his team are working in private to round up votes by meeting with lawmakers, not through media appearances and flashy documents that they say Boehner favors.

But it is clear most House Republicans, especially conservative Westerners, remain up for grabs. Some have openly expressed discontent that so far, of the five leadership positions, only the race for majority leader is certain and only two appear contested by a slim number of candidates. Rep. John E. Sweeney (N.Y.) cited DeLay's departure, the Abramoff scandal and a growing sense of party disunity in calling for a competition for all leadership posts, from the speakership to the Republican policy chair.

"Given the circumstances of the last year, it is critical we do a reorganization in depth, a reorganization that presents real new ideas," he said.

Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who unveiled a petition last week to replace DeLay on a permanent basis, circulated a letter yesterday urging lawmakers not to commit publicly to any candidate. They said none in the race has committed to major restructuring such as curtailing pork-barrel politics or stopping open-ended votes, when leaders twist arms on the House floor to pass legislation that otherwise could not get majority support.

"Elections that appear to be foregone conclusions do not advance the reformist agenda many of us pledged to uphold to our constituents," the letter reads.

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