In the battle to define Boehner, the would-be Speaker makes his case

Pushing back against the White House’s effort to portray him as a country-club Republican, Rep. John Boehner and his staff have recently touted that the Ohioan comes from a humble background.

The House minority leader has been a mover and a shaker on Capitol Hill for two decades, but he is attempting to introduce himself to voters who know little about him, most of whom are outside the Washington Beltway.

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Boehner last month told The Wall Street Journal that he put himself through Xavier University in Cincinnati by working "every rotten job there was and [being] damn glad to have them," including janitor, roofer and heavy-equipment driver.

Over the last few weeks, Boehner’s press shop has sent out several unsolicited articles that depict Boehner as a regular guy, playing up his roots in blue-collar Reading, Ohio.

In the most recent profile, a piece by The Cincinnati Enquirer on Oct. 4, reporter Eric Bradley attempts to solve the mystery of Boehner’s “ever-present tan.”

It’s a skin tone that has been mocked by White House officials, including President Obama, who joked last year that Boehner is a “person of color.”

Bradley reports that Boehner was also tan in his youth, noting a photograph in a high school yearbook that showed Boehner “conspicuously darker than his fellow students.” Boehner’s darker-than-normal complexion is “a gift from his mother’s side of the family,” the article states.

Boehner, however, has previously said he is tan because he plays a lot of golf.

The Ohio Republican is a talented golfer, holding an 8 handicap. He also likes to smoke, drink red wine and sing a version of “Happy Birthday” to lawmakers on the House floor.

Should Republicans win the House, the spotlight on Boehner will be brighter than ever. The effort to define him has become a bit of a sport recently as the White House has singled him out as its new bogeyman.

Democrats have portrayed Boehner as the consummate D.C. insider, beholden to lobbyists, at a time when voter frustration with entrenched politicians has hit a record high.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) launched Boehnerland.com, a site featuring a picture of the 10-term lawmaker surrounded by the names of K Street lobbyists and their connections to the would-be Speaker with the caption, “John Boehner: A Speaker for Big Time Lobbyists.”

Boehner’s reputation on Capitol Hill of strong ties to the lobbying community stems in part from a 1996 incident in which he was caught on the House floor handing out checks to colleagues on behalf of tobacco lobbyists.

Obama has attempted to tie Boehner to former President George W. Bush when attacking the Republican Party for being devoid of new ideas.

A GOP leadership aide dismissed the recent Democratic effort as desperate and ineffective.

“There’s a reason why the Democrats’ attacks on Boehner are going nowhere. He’s a genuine person, and a grown-up. He has a compelling story rooted in humble beginnings in a big, blue-collar family. And he has real-world experience running a small business — something that’s totally lacking in the Obama administration, which has failed to create jobs and get our economy going again,” the aide said.

John Feehery, a former House GOP leadership aide and contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog, said Boehner’s office is making the right move in forwarding the favorable clips to reporters.

“The Democrats are trying to paint him as some kind of elitist, and I don’t think Boehner’s an elitist. He’s just a normal guy who understands the pressures of a small-business owner, and I think that telling that story is good politics,” Feehery added.


One former Democratic lawmaker points out that few know who Boehner is.

“Most people around the country don't have a clue as to who Boehner is, and it really doesn't make a difference how [Boehner’s press officers] try and portray him, because the public doesn't have any awareness of him,” said former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost (Texas), also a contributor to the Pundits Blog.

Boehner has made an effort to raise his own profile as he makes the case for GOP control of the House. On Friday, he was back in Ohio to deliver the fourth in a series of major policy speeches since the campaign season began. In the latest speech, Boehner discussed efforts the GOP will make to help small businesses in trying to make what his aides billed was a “closing argument” for why Republicans should be handed control of the House.

Many media outlets, anticipating a wave of Republican victories on Nov. 2, want access to Boehner, who has been on the road raising money and campaigning for his potential majority-making candidates.

Sources say that his office has turned down dozens of requests for sit-down interviews.

Frost, who believes that Democrats will retain control of the House, did say, however, that Boehner’s office is being smart.

"I think they are just trying to dispel the image, the country-club image of him playing golf all the time, with the great tan,” Frost explained. "The only way the public will pay attention to Boehner is if the Republicans win and he becomes Speaker, but prior to that I don't think this makes much difference, although it is smart for them to try and do it."

A profile written by London’s Daily Telegraph in mid-September, and forwarded to reporters, stated, “Mr. Boehner’s life story is the type of classic up-by-the-bootstraps tale of the American Dream that can put a tear in a voter’s eye. As his story becomes better known, the Democrats could even be drawing favourable attention upon him.”