WASHINGTON -- When John Shadegg announced from his hometown of Phoenix on Friday that he is running for House majority leader, it appeared that the two leading candidates to succeed Tom DeLay had peaked. The reason is that Roy Blunt and John Boehner both are regarded as K Street candidates, whose selection might not be prudent for a Republican Party enmeshed in scandal.
Neither Blunt nor Boehner is burdened with DeLay's connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Like DeLay, each is closely associated with K Street (the capital's big and brassy lobbyist community). Unlike DeLay, neither is viewed by ardent ideological conservatives as one of their own. So, until Shadegg announced his candidacy, members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) were watching a race without a horse to bet on.
While starting well behind the front-runners, Shadegg is a non-K Street reformer. He came to Washington as part of the huge Republican class of '94 that gave the GOP a House majority, and he has not "gone native" since then (in the language of congressional cloakrooms). A former RSC chairman, Shadegg a year ago was elected House Republican Policy Committee chairman (the fifth-ranking party post). In the leadership, Shadegg has remained a supply-side, free market conservative, unique in pressing for deep reforms.
Based on ideological ratings by both left-wing and right-wing organizations, Blunt and Boehner have nearly identical voting records not much different from Shadegg's. The difference pondered by rank-and-file Republican House members is how they will react to the severe threat posed to the party's majority in the current climate of scandal.
As acting majority leader, Blunt has been productive with a much lighter touch than DeLay. Boehner has worked his way back from his defeat for re-election as chairman of the House Republican Conference (the fourth-ranking post) to become an effective chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. But each has drawbacks.
Blunt has been complicit in the epidemic of earmarks, where Republican lawmakers far exceeded their Democratic predecessors in the amount of special projects inserted in spending bills without authorization or even a hearing. Blunt has been vigorous in obtaining earmarks for his Missouri district and uninterested in restricting the practice. He was among the party leaders who last year privately spanked Rep. Mike Pence, the RSC chairman, for trying to cut back earmarks.