Salena Zito

Standing in a Racine, Wis., auditorium in late June, sleeves rolled up, President Obama delivered a campaign speech that lifted up House Minority Leader John Boehner long before the Nov. 2 election did.

Obama ridiculed the Ohio Republican’s comments to the Pittsburgh Trib about a financial reform bill’s effectiveness.

The moment marked the beginning and the end of possibilities for both men.

“Attacks are attacks. That comes with the territory,” Boehner told the Trib on Friday. Obama’s attack “became an opportunity to showcase the Republican message on creating jobs, spending and reform, and that message was very well received.”

Obama’s message, however, “backfired in a stunning way, by elevating the minority leader to the same level as the president,” says Mark Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason University. It also made Obama look like any other Washington politician, he adds.

Since late September, when polls made clear Boehner would be the next House Speaker, scores of fresh press biographies have poured out of Cincinnati, trying to define the man who is about to become next in line to the presidency after the vice president.

“I grew up in a big family and I have had every kind of job there ever was, from dishwasher to mopping floors,” Boehner explains. He says he shares a lot of the same experiences of his new congressmen, many of whom have run small businesses but never served in government.

“When I entered Congress, I was this small businessman who’d had enough of government and decided to do something about it. I still see myself this way,” he says.

“You would be surprised how that kind of experience” – running a small business – “will make this a better Congress. … I fully expect they will be teaching me a few new things.”

He also knows what it means to fail. Instrumental in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, he lost his leadership post in the midterm defeat of 1998.

“I think anyone who has fallen from on-high has a better perspective than someone who has not failed,” says Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University in Ohio.

Kelley, who lives in the same Cincinnati suburb as the presumptive speaker, said Boehner’s election-night message “was right on – that the Republicans were given a second chance, rather than taking a victory lap the way the Democrats did following their victory in 2006.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.