Another keen Washington observer I talked to–and this is the best, most realistic analysis I’ve heard– thinks it’s probably going to be Blunt. He thinks House Republicans are in the mood for change, but not too much change and that probably bodes well for the acting majority leader. Blunt has benefited from acting in that capacity, but also been hurt by it, because he has had to avoid seeming to want the permanent job too much and has been dealing with difficult circumstances.
He has probably strengthened his position in recent weeks, mostly because Boehner’s star has dimmed a bit. Boehner was perceived as being too pro-business in the debate over the immigration bill. But Boehner has done a good job, and strengthened his policy credentials, with the education and workforce committee that he chairs.
Between Blunt and Boehner, ultimately, it’s probably a wash both politically and ideologically. Neither is clearly better politically (both would continue the shift of the congressional leadership away from its excessive tilt toward southerners), and both are conservatives.
As for the dark horses, Pence is probably identified too much as the leader of a faction to become a leader of the entire conference, and Cantor is perceived as being too unseasoned.