WASHINGTON – Ohio Rep. John Boehner has gained the support from an Illinois congressman with close ties to Speaker Dennis Hastert in his challenge to Roy Blunt's bid to win election next month as House majority leader.
Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said he was canceling a scheduled trip to India, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore to work on behalf of Boehner's bid for the No. 2. position in the GOP leadership. Boehner, R-Ohio, now chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Blunt, who has held the majority leader's job on an acting basis since last fall, claimed momentum Tuesday in his bid to succeed Texas Republican Tom DeLay, releasing a list of 39 supporters. Blunt was elected to the party's No. 3 House post in 2002 as GOP whip. He has been doing both that job and DeLay's since DeLay was forced by party rules to step down last September upon his indictment on charges of laundering campaign funds.
"Our confidence is growing because our list of supporters is growing," said Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger. Blunt's roster of supporters includes stout conservatives such as Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Sue Myrick, R-N.C., but also some prominent moderates like Connecticut GOP Reps. Christopher Shays and Nancy Johnson, and Jim Leach, R-Iowa.
Boehner's office released a smaller list of 18 supporters Tuesday. "We're pretty energized right now," said Boehner spokesman Don Seymour.
Boehner's list included Reps. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., and Anne Northup, R-Ky., but he also received praise, though not an endorsement, from New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee.
Neither camp was willing to predict victory, and given the unique dynamics of congressional leadership elections — which are dominated by private conversations among lawmakers — it is difficult to independently gauge a candidate's support.
Two lawmakers who helped engineer DeLay's decision to forego trying to return as majority leader urged colleagues in a letter to withhold commitments to one leadership candidate or another until each outlines reforms they would support.
But Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Charles Bass, R-N.H., said they want to hear the candidates' views on issues such as stuffing hometown parochial projects into appropriations bills and the highway bill that passed last year with almost 6,500 such earmarks for home-state projects. Flake and Bass put together a letter last week calling for fresh leadership elections to replace DeLay.
"Thus far, no candidate has appropriately addressed these and other much needed operational issues of the House," Flake and Bass said in their latest letter.
Some Republicans have grumbled that both Blunt and Boehner are too close to Washington's lobbying community and that neither represents the fresh face that the GOP needs in the wake of DeLay's problems and a mushrooming ethics developing around convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.