Race Is On To Replace DeLay

U.S. Representative of Ohio John Boehner, 2002/10/18, left, and U.S. Representative of Missouri Roy Blunt, 2005/9/29
House Republicans, buffeted by a lobbying scandal and running poorly in opinion polls, are mulling a choice between two veteran Midwestern lawmakers to replace embattled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

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.