Even before President Obama called him Tuesday night, an emotional John Boehner seemed to realize his moment has come.
"I spent my whole life chasing the American dream," he said as he started to choke up, which prompted the audience applaud and cheer.
Boehner is the son of a bartender and one of 12 children. Last night, as the Republican victory became clear, he reflected on how he got here, recalling how he put himself through school by working what he called lots of "rotten jobs," including mopping floors in his dad's bar.
Then after graduation from college, he ran a small business before turning to politics. " And when I saw how out of touch Washington had become, I put my name forward and ran for office."
First elected in 1990, Boehner quickly moved up, and has been in the Republican house leadership since the days of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America."
But Republican House gains last night surpassed even the gains back in 1994. And by today, Boehner was looking forward and weighing the tasks ahead."We're humbled by the trust that the American people have placed in us," he said. "And as I said last night, our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people."As he campaigned for other candidates in Ohio on the eve of the election, he seemed to sense the role he was about to play, as he skewered several elements of the Obama agenda. saying "Your government is out of control," he told a Republican crowd. "Do you have to accept it? No!," they answered. "Do you have to take it? No," the crowd shouts again. "Hell no, you don't!" Boehner shouted back.
Boehner has taken ribbing from time to time, especially from detractors, about his ever present tan. In better political times for President Obama, he joined in the ribbing, telling a dinner for White House Correspondents, "We have a lot in common. He is a person of color. Although not a color that appears in the natural world."The president isn't laughing today -- he's inviting John Boehner to the White House to seek compromise. And the new Republican leader has a larger army to back him up.
Mr. Boehner will have plenty of challenges of his own -- handling a bigger caucus, including some Tea Party members with strong views about what should happen next.
A congressional ally predicts Boehner will do fine -- that growing up with 11 brothers and sisters is perfect preparation for managing a lot of different views.