Election gains would make Boehner the national face of the Republican Party

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Republican Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Trump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment MORE spent what he hopes will be his final days in the House minority stumping across his home state to win support for the freshman class that could make him Speaker.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Trump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment MORE appears poised to become the face of the Republican Party with the GOP expected to win the House and fall short in the Senate.

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Boehner exuded a quiet confidence over the weekend while going toe to toe in Ohio with President Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Clinton, who all headlined rallies intended to help Democrats.

“You’ve got to talk to your neighbors; you’ve got to talk to your friends,” Boehner warned an enthusiastic crowd gathered in this central Ohio farming community Sunday night. “Polls don’t elect people, voters do.”

He also promised to bring change to Washington, just as Obama did in 2008.

“If I’m lucky enough to be Speaker, it’s going to be different in Washington,” Boehner said Sunday.

The biggest difference in Washington could be a Speaker Boehner, who would emerge as a foil for Obama and Democrats eager for a comeback in 2012.

How Boehner handles battles with Democrats as well as the inevitable skirmishes in his own conference, which is likely to include dozens of new conservative members loyal to the burgeoning Tea Party movement, will help determine the direction of government for the next two years.

“His real challenge coming up is going to be the Tea Party and very strong conservatives,” said former Rep. Bob Ehrlich (R-Md.), who was first elected to Congress in the GOP wave of 1994 and served on the GOP’s majority whip team.

“They’re going to have an expectation, and I know about high expectations from when I was a whip,” warned Ehrlich. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘OK, Tea Party, produce.’ Well, it’s not easy to produce when you don’t control the executive branch.”

Boehner has succeeded in firing up Tea Party crowds even though he is not a Tea Party leader. Yet there are signs that Boehner is making a change in his style and rhetoric.

The leader known as a deal-maker and mocked as a country-club Republican has told conservatives what they want to hear by insisting that now is not the time for compromise.

In his final weekend of the campaign, he talked about how there is an “uprising going on in this country.”

“People have had enough. They have had enough,” Boehner said at the Chillicothe event.

“This president has called people who disagree with him enemies,” Boehner said to groans of disapproval. “The word isn’t ‘enemies,’ Mr. President — they’re patriots,” Boehner added to rapturous applause.

The man known for his tan and polished suits wore campaign-casual — a dress shirt and pullover, but no tie. The formerly bronzed Boehner also has been appearing noticeably paler.

Boehner will be pulled in several directions if he becomes Speaker, a post that would make him second in line to the presidency .

He would likely rule over a closely divided House; even if Republicans gain the 50 seats they are predicted to win on Election Day, they would have a 10-seat majority.

Ehrlich thinks Boehner would stand ready to work with Democrats, describing him as a solid conservative with “a pragmatic side.”

“If the White House wants to deal, he’ll deal on some issues,” Ehrlich said.

That could put off conservatives in his conference. But Boehner also must remember that the last Republican leader who led his conference to a House majority, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), watched Clinton make a comeback after voters turned against the GOP for the government shutdown.

Boehner will have to make tough calls immediately on whether to issue waivers for some longtime House Republicans who want to keep their chairmanships despite term-limit rules that count years spent as ranking minority members toward the limit.

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Boehner also will have to decide how to position himself on spending bills that will be a key issue in a lame-duck session of Congress. If Democrats decide to move a continuing resolution to fund the government in the lame-duck, Boehner will inherit the appropriations process early next year.

He’ll also have to deal with an aggressive White House. While earlier administration attacks on Boehner proved ineffective largely because the public didn’t know who he was, the White House seems aware that will change if a Speaker Boehner becomes the face of the Republican Party.

In Cleveland on Sunday, Obama again went after Boehner, telling the crowd that he and Republicans are unwilling to work with Democrats in Congress.

“I guess they’re feeling cocky, maybe,” Obama said. “The Republican leader of the House says, ‘This is not a time for compromise.’ That’s a quote.”

On Saturday, as Clinton headlined a rally for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Rep. John Boccieri (D) in Canton, Boehner was less than two miles away for a counter-rally with Boccieri’s GOP challenger, Jim Renacci.

Boehner wrapped up his barnstorming of the Buckeye State with a meet-and-greet in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester on Monday and a final get-out-the-vote rally with gubernatorial candidate John Kasich and Senate nominee Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHouse votes to boost retirement savings The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget WANTED: A Republican with courage MORE on Monday night.

The man who stands on the cusp of the Speakership ended his appeal to voters Sunday night with the promise that he would serve as a much-needed counterweight to the president. He also acknowledged it could be an uphill fight.

“This is a big country, and it’s been a long campaign,” a road-weary Boehner told supporters, adding, “I have not stopped fighting and I will not stop.”


Emily Goodin, Roxana Tiron and Sara Jerome contributed to this article.