WASHINGTON – Triggering a post-election shake-up, Dennis Hastert announced Wednesday he will not run for leader of House Republicans when Democrats take control in January.
"Obviously I wish my party had won," the House Speaker said in a statement that added he intends to return to the "full-time task" of representing his Illinois constituents.
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His decision to step down from the leadership cleared the way for a likely succession battle among lawmakers who face the sudden loss of power after a dozen years in the majority.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, currently the majority leader, is expected to run for leader, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana announced during the day he also will seek the post. Joe Barton of Texas has signaled he may join the field. Republican leadership elections are scheduled for Nov. 15.
Hastert first conveyed word of his plans in a conference call with fellow GOP leaders one day after Republicans lost control of the House in midterm elections.
There is no recent precedent for Hastert's situation. The last time control of the House changed hands, in 1994, the speaker at the time, Democratic Rep. Tom Foley of Washington, lost his House seat.
Hastert, 64, became speaker nearly eight years ago, stepping up after Newt Gingrich resigned and the next-in-line lawmaker, Bob Livingston, quit after saying he had had an extramarital affair.
A former high school wrestling coach, Hastert was the perfect tonic for Republicans at the time, studiously avoiding the controversy that Gingrich often seemed to court.
He worked closely with President Bush, and originally had indicated he would retire rather than seek re-election this fall. The president prevailed on him to run again though, and Hastert agreed.
In the final weeks of the campaign, fellow Republicans questioned whether he or his aides had failed to act more quickly to force Rep. Mark Foley to resign. The Florida Republican quit Congress on Sept. 29 after being confronted with sexually explicit computer messages he had sent to teenage Capitol pages.
Hastert's tenacious — but plodding — approach to his tenure received mixed reviews. He largely shunned the talk-show circuit. He pushed much of Bush's legislative agenda to passage, although critics said he occasionally failed to line up GOP support for key legislation, including a 1999 resolution supporting U.S. intervention in Kosovo and gun-control measures.
Although conservative, Hastert became known more as a legislative tactician with a pragmatic, consensus-building style than as an ideological purist.
In an effort to keep his fragile, fractured Republican majority — and himself — in charge of the House, Hastert maintained a dizzying fundraising pace as speaker that rivaled the legendary cash-collecting abilities of his predecessor, Gingrich.
He took steps to decentralize the House, allowing policy to bubble up through the committees rather than being dictated down from the top.
Hastert won 10 terms by concentrating on issues important to his north central Illinois district, a mix of far-out Chicago suburbs, farmland and high-tech industry.
On Tuesday, Hastert was easily re-elected to his congressional seat over a relatively unknown challenger, but Democratic wins nationwide gave them control of the House and put California Democrat Nancy Pelosi in line to be the next speaker.
"It's been kind of tough out there," Hastert said during a brief appearance at his election headquarters.
Several officials said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri would seek a new term as whip, the second-ranking leadership position. Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona circulated a letter to fellow Republicans announcing he would run for the post.
Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying she would not seek to remain in leadership. She is locked in a tough re-election race in her district around Columbus.