By Patrick OConnor - 01/11/06 12:00 AM EST
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) took the first significant lead in declared support among lawmakers yesterday in his contest with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for job of majority leader, but most members are withholding their public support.
The two candidates have cast their race as a clear choice between insider and outsider. Blunt, the acting majority leader, sells members on his leadership record; Boehner, a former conference chairman under then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), is running a campaign for change.
The two men and their supporters have been locked in battle since the weekend announcement by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that, in the face of pressure to step aside, he will not seek to regain his leadership post.
Boehner has been making calls from his Longworth office, and a handful of supporters have stopped by to make calls for him. Other supporters are working the phones from their district offices. A source close to the Ohio lawmaker said his operation has been running 18 hours a day since Saturday.
Blunt’s team has been working similar hours in his Capitol office, and the majority whip hosted his first conference call Monday night with about 40 members of his unofficial whip team, a source close to the lawmaker said.
Rumors flew yesterday of promises made and votes secured, but little was clear. Blunt and Boehner boasted of 44 and 25 declared supporters respectively — moves designed to encourage others to declare — but, although neither side will disclose its private list, neither, too, appears close to locking up the 116 votes necessary to win.
The two candidates’ swift and sizable campaign operations appear to have scared other members out of the race, but lobbyists and aides say it’s not too late for others to jump in if neither secures a winning margin within the next week.
Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) sent a letter yesterday to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) asking him to bring forward the election date. It is set for Feb. 2, two days after President Bush’s State of the Union speech. Shaw is concerned that the election will distract from the Republican message at a critical time for the party.
Whatever the eventual date, the candidates are trying to build on existing relationships and shore up support from within the various delegations and ideological groups.
While centrists and conservatives have made the most noise over the past year sparring over the direction of the party, state delegations remain the most consistent barometers of support within the conference.
Blunt has secured the support of all four Republicans in his home state of Missouri; Boehner has a large and loyal following in his native Ohio.
A big state, Florida, gave Blunt a slight public boost yesterday as Republican members of that delegation appeared to rally around the acting majority leader.
Throughout the past year, Florida Republicans have felt underrepresented in the party hierarchy. At least four Floridians will challenge for committee chairmanships at the beginning of the 110th Congress — Reps. Ander Crenshaw for Budget, John Mica for Transportation, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for International Relations, and Shaw for Ways and Means. It is still unclear if they will vote as a bloc, but they have stayed in close contact since the race began early Saturday afternoon.
Shaw, a Blunt supporter, convened a phone call with Florida members Monday to test their views. Nine of the state’s 18 Republicans have already announced for Blunt, with more expected soon, according to GOP aides in the state.
The tally of support by both sides is taken from public statements by the lawmakers.
California and Texas are the two largest states without a member in the race.
DeLay’s decision not to retake his leadership post leaves Texas, the largest Republican delegation in the House, without a member in leadership and only a single chairman, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Joe Barton. Members of the Texas delegation are set to meet today in Dallas to discuss the race, said freshman Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), but he would not say if the delegation had specific expectations for either candidate. Conaway said he did not want to commit to either candidate until he had a chance to discuss the race with his fellow Texans.
The most prominent member of the delegation — DeLay — has said he will not take sides in the race to replace him. He told his staff last weekend to do the same, one staff member said, allowing the candidates and their teams to build support within the conference. “He believes this is a decision best left up to the conference,” the aide said.
Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee have invited both candidates to address their questions at the group’s retreat, aides said. Their centrist counterparts at the Tuesday Group are also expected to sit down with both candidates once members return later this month, one aide said, with staff expected to discuss the decision before members return.
Boehner has reached out to conservatives over the past several months, and he pushed budget reform — a conservative priority — as one of his few individual policy priorities in his 37-page treatise, “John Boehner: For a Majority That Matters,” released Monday.
Boehner is trying to capitalize on discontent within the party in beating a current member of the leadership while Blunt is selling members on his experience, and the passage of a flurry of legislation has changed the landscape a bit.
Age: Turned 56 yesterday
Committee: Energy and Commerce
American Conservative Union (ACU) lifetime rating: 94 percent
* Became chief deputy majority whip at the beginning of his second term
* Elected majority whip in 2002
* Scored legislative wins on Medicare drug bill and CAFTA but attracted criticism from Democrats for keeping roll-call votes open well beyond normal 15-minute time period
* Co-sponsor of bill that would create national registry of sex offenders
* Co-sponsor of legislation commemorating Rosa Parks on a postage stamp
Blunt’s public supporters
Todd Akin (Mo.)
Rodney Alexander (La.)
Richard Baker (La.)
Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.)
Henry Bonilla (Texas)
Jo Bonner (Ala.)
John Boozman (Ark.)
Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.)
Dave Camp (Mich.)
Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.)
Tom Cole (Okla.)
Ander Crenshaw (Fla.)
Charlie Dent (Pa.)
Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.)
Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.)
Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.)
Mike Ferguson (N.J.)
Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.)
Mark Foley (Fla.)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.)
Bob Goodlatte (Va.)
Sam Graves (Mo.)
Katherine Harris (Fla.)
Kenny Hulshof (Mo.)
Duncan Hunter (Calif.)
Darrell Issa (Calif.)
Bobby Jindal (La.)
Nancy Johnson (Conn.)
Jack Kingston (Ga.)
Mark Kirk (Ill.)
Jim Leach (Iowa)
Candice Miller (Mich.)
Sue Myrick (N.C.)
Charlie Norwood (Ga.)
Adam Putnam (Fla.)
Dave Reichert (Wash.)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)
Clay Shaw (Fla.)
Chris Shays (Conn.)
Lamar Smith (Texas)
Greg Walden (Ore.)
Jim Walsh (N.Y.)
Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.)
Joe Wilson (S.C.)
Committees: Education and the Workforce (chairman), Agriculture
ACU lifetime rating: 94 percent
* Lost race for conference chairman to then-Rep. J.C. Watts in 1998, 121-93
* Played major role in crafting No Child Left Behind law, which Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) voted against
* Voted against the 2005 highway reauthorization bill
* Co-sponsor of balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution
* Co-sponsor of bill to terminate taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns
Boehner’s public supporters
Gresham Barrett (S.C.)
Charles Boustany (La.)
Steve Buyer (Ind.)
Mike Castle (Del.)
Steve Chabot (Ohio)
Paul Gillmor (Ohio)
Melissa Hart (Pa.)
Dave Hobson (Ohio)
Sam Johnson (Texas)
John Kline (Minn.)
Ray LaHood (Ill.)
Tom Latham (Iowa)
Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.)
Buck McKeon (Calif.)
Anne Northup (Ky.)
Devin Nunes (Calif.)
Mike Oxley (Ohio)
Steve Pearce (N.M.)
Jon Porter (Nev.)
Jim Ramstad (Minn.)
Jim Saxton (N.J.)
Pete Sessions (Texas)
Mike Simpson (Idaho)
Patrick Tiberi (Ohio)
Ed Whitfield (Ky.)
“If it hadn’t been for that December finish, [Blunt] might be in a more defensive mode,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a Blunt supporter.