Rep. John Boehner of Ohio announced Sunday he is seeking to become the No. 2 GOP leader in the House. Republican Whip Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the acting majority leader, campaigned for the job as well.
DeLay is under indictment on campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas. He stepped down permanently Saturday as majority leader days after lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud charges in a congressional influence-peddling investigation.
The leadership campaign will be fought mostly by telephone as Blunt and Boehner track down colleagues scattered while on an extended holiday break. The vote is slated when lawmakers return to Washington the week of Jan. 30.
"We've had a tough run recently, some of it of our own making," Boehner wrote fellow Republicans in a letter declaring his candidacy. "But I also believe that if we are able to renew our energy and our commitment to our basic principles, the best is yet to come."
Blunt made a similar observation in a letter appealing for votes. "Unfortunately, the recent scandals have caused some to question whether we have lost our vision and whether the faith they have placed in us is justified," he wrote.
"While I have no doubt that it is, it will be difficult to move forward ... until we regain the trust and confidence of our constituents by enacting new lobbying reforms and enhanced penalties."
The majority leader's post is central to advancing the GOP agenda on Capitol Hill, and it could be a stepping stone to eventually succeeding Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Hastert, his own grip on power secure, said he expects elections to be held when lawmakers return to the Capitol the week of Jan. 31. That set the stage for several weeks of political maneuvering and the possibility of a wholesale shuffle in the leadership lineup 10 months before midterm elections.
There's no shortage of candidates lining up to replace DeLay, but there is no one else like him – a brash, often-uncompromising conservative, reports CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger.
Democrats, eager to take control of the House in November, reacted to DeLay's departure with studied indifference.
"The culture of corruption is so pervasive in the Republican conference that a single person stepping down is not nearly enough to clean up the Republican Congress," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.
Added Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic campaign organization: "With the permanence of their special interest philosophy, a change in the Republican cast of characters simply doesn't matter."
Democrats must gain 15 seats in November to win control of the 435-member House.
Blunt, 55, began his leadership career as a protege of DeLay, who named him a deputy whip in 1999.
His voting record reflects the priorities of the GOP majority that he helps lead, including opposition to abortion, support for tax cuts and approval for the landmark Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation that passed during President Bush's first term.
Blunt drew grumbling from some Republicans late last year after taking over temporarily for DeLay. The leadership was forced to make concessions to moderates to pass a deficit-reduction bill, then found it was still short of votes. Also, a bill to cut social spending was defeated.
"We kind of just muddled along," and Hastert had to step in to rescue the party's agenda, said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill.
By year's end, however, both bills had cleared the House, allowing Blunt to say he had overcome significant obstacles while handling two jobs at once.
Blunt's election could largely cement the current leadership structure, even as some Republicans are calling out for sweeping change in the way the party does its business. Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., hopes to succeed Blunt in the No. 3 job as whip.
"We need dramatic change and real reform," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.
Boehner, 56, is no stranger to leadership positions. He rose quickly in GOP ranks after his election to Congress in 1990. After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, he was elected head of the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 position in the party.
Boehner was ousted from that job in 1998, however, following the party's poor performance in elections that year. He has instead chaired the Education and the Workforce Committee since 2001, and he played a lead role in passing President Bush's No Child Left Behind education bill.
In the years since, he has worked among Republicans and at times across party lines to compile a record of legislative accomplishment. Most recently, a last-minute compromise with the United Auto Workers union paved the way for bipartisan passage of pension legislation that Blunt had told reporters would not be on the year-end agenda.