Rivals For DeLay Post Falling Short

U.S. Representative of Ohio John Boehner, 2002/10/18, left, and U.S. Representative of Missouri Roy Blunt, 2005/9/29
House conservatives moved on Tuesday to prevent either Roy Blunt or John Boehner from wrapping up the race to become majority leader before Congress reconvenes later this month.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who chairs the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 110 conservative members of the House, said he hopes the race won't be decided before his committee holds a retreat Jan. 30-31 in Baltimore.

"I'm not going to express any endorsement" until after then, said Pence, who on Monday took his name out of the running to succeed Tom DeLay as majority leader. DeLay stepped down last September after his indictment on campaign money laundering charges. Blunt has been acting leader since then.

A group of five Florida Republicans, including Reps. Clay Shaw and Katherine Harris — both of whom support Blunt — countered with a call for earlier leadership elections.

In a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., the group said it was important not to divert attention from President Bush's Jan. 31 State of the Union address and Republicans' work on their 2006 agenda.

A spokesman for GOP Conference Chair Deborah Pryce of Ohio said she is canvassing lawmakers to determine whether to hold the election the week of Jan. 23.

Meanwhile, an informal survey of several state delegations shows that many lawmakers are withholding endorsements.

Blunt, R-Mo., the GOP whip, claims the momentum with 45 publicly declared supporters. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, claims 30 public supporters. Their totals represent about one third of all GOP lawmakers, though both camps claim additional private commitments.

It would take 116 votes to win the post.

The election comes as the GOP is reeling from poor standing in opinion polls and the wake of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty pleas on federal conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud charges in a congressional influence-peddling investigation.