In Shadegg's Race, a Nod to the '94 Revolution

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 15, 2006

He grew up around Barry Goldwater, arrived in Washington with the "Contract With America" crowd, boycotted one of President Bill Clinton's State of the Union speeches and is more conservative on some issues than President Bush.

Now John Shadegg, a six-term Republican congressman from Arizona, has jumped into the race for House majority leader, trying to position himself as the reform candidate in challenging two more established members of the GOP leadership, Missouri's Roy Blunt and Ohio's John A. Boehner.

In arguing that the Republicans have "lost sight of our ideals," Shadegg, 56, is espousing not only tighter ethics rules, but also a return to the smaller-government ethos that has been lost in an era of ballooning budgets and pork-barrel spending.

"I think he's by far the most conservative guy who's acceptable to a broad ideological spectrum in the [Republican] Conference," said former representative Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, who encouraged Shadegg to run. "He's a very easy guy to get along with, a very good-natured guy. He doesn't make enemies." While clearly an underdog, Toomey said, "John is in the best position to demand a departure from the old ways of doing business."

Blunt, who is acting majority leader, tried to declare the race over yesterday, saying in a statement that he has more than the 117 votes required to win the post. But Shadegg, saying he already has gained defections among Blunt supporters since announcing his candidacy Friday, countered: "Vote counts in this sort of race are notoriously inaccurate. I am in this race to the finish."

Boehner said in a statement that if Blunt is so confident, he should resign as House majority whip to allow for an open race for that post. (While serving as acting majority leader, Blunt has kept the whip job.)

Shadegg's father, Stephen, managed Goldwater's 1952 Senate campaign, and his son stuffed envelopes and often listened as the two men talked politics. Steeped in free-market libertarianism, Shadegg became a lawyer, worked in the state attorney general's office and then served as counsel to Republicans in the Arizona legislature.

He won a House seat in his suburban Phoenix district in 1994, the year that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans won control of the House. Soon afterward, he opposed a measure to phase out federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, saying the funding should be ended immediately. Shadegg later took over the presidency of GOPAC, Gingrich's political action committee.

"He's Newt's progeny," said Marshall Wittmann, a Democratic Leadership Council aide who previously worked for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "A hard-core, true-believing, hard-charging right-winger who believes everything Newt said about dismantling government and transforming the culture. In many ways, he is trying to revive the spirit of the revolution of '94."

Shadegg drew national attention for refusing to attend Clinton's 1999 State of the Union address, shortly after the House impeached Clinton over the Monica S. Lewinsky affair.

The Arizona Republic has called Shadegg a "firebrand" and "equal-opportunity iconoclast." He argued in 2001 that Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut was not big enough. He has bucked the administration on a number of issues, refusing to vote for the aviation security act or Medicare prescription-drug benefits, one of only 25 Republicans to oppose the costly program. But Shadegg, a policy expert, also helped devise a compromise on a patients' bill of rights that ultimately died in Congress.

Shadegg's base of support has been the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House gathering that he previously headed. He is giving up the chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 5 leadership post, to make the race.

His mouth has occasionally gotten him in trouble. During a 2000 dispute over Clinton's decision to create a national forest near Tucson, Shadegg said: "I would draw a parallel to Hitler. He eroded the will of the German people to resist evil." At the 2004 Republican National Convention, Shadegg described liberal filmmaker Michael Moore as the "anti-Christ" and said supporters of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry "have mental health problems."

Shadegg underwent coronary bypass surgery in 2002, but it does not appear to have slowed him down. He won reelection in 2004 with 80 percent of the vote and no Democratic opposition.

When Shadegg gave up more than $6,900 in campaign contributions last month from clients associated with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his spokesman made a point of saying the Arizonan had never met Abramoff.

While not a "bomb-thrower" on social issues, as Wittmann put it, Shadegg has drawn his strongest backing from economic conservatives. CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow said on his blog that if Shadegg were to succeed Tom DeLay in the No. 2 House post, it "would stop the misbegotten march toward big government conservatism and budget excess which has gotten the Republican Congress into so much trouble."

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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