Chalk one up for the establishment.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) bested Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Tuesday afternoon to win the No. 5 spot in Senate GOP leadership, a race that had become a proxy battle between the Republican Party’s tea-party and establishment wings.
The final vote tally was 25 for Blunt, 22 for Johnson, according to sources inside the room. The vote was conducted by secret ballot, so no list is available of how individual members voted.
Both Blunt and Johnson are freshmen senators, although the contrast in their résumés could not be more stark. Blunt is a longtime lawmaker and GOP insider who previously served as his party’s chief vote-counter in the House before winning election to the Senate last year. Johnson is a businessman who had never served in political office before riding a wave of tea-party support last year to oust incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold (R-Wis.).
Johnson had announced his candidacy for the spot as soon as Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) told colleagues in September that he would step down from his No. 3 leadership spot early next year, bringing on a leadership scramble.
Blunt had been publicly mulling a bid but only formally announced last week; Senate leaders then announced that they were moving up the election from next month to this week.
In a statement, Johnson acknowledged that “it’s relatively audacious for someone who’s been here for just 11 months to run for leadership, but Washington is bankrupting this nation.”
“I thought that having an independent voice at the leadership table would help get that message across,” Johnson said. “My colleagues chose a different path; they chose someone with different skills. I wish Senator Roy Blunt well. I appreciate his graciousness during the race and I am committed to doing everything I can to help him succeed.”
Many members were mum on who they voted for, but some told reporters as they left the meeting that they voted for Blunt because his longtime experience in the House was an asset.
“I’ve known him many, many years; I thought his experience with the House was a good thing,” Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.) said of Blunt.
While the race was an inside-baseball one, it had drawn the attention of tea party activists and candidates across the country. Tea party groups such as FreedomWorks had called on voters to urge GOP senators to back Johnson, and RedState.com’s Erick Erickson had called it the “most important” race in the country.
Tuesday’s election also saw several other members of GOP leadership get bumped up in the ranks ahead of Alexander’s exit.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), currently the fourth-ranking Republican, will succeed Alexander in the No. 3 spot.
Current fifth-ranking member Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) will take Thune’s No. 4 slot.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) will remain in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, although Kyl’s retirement in 2012 will set off another leadership race next year.