Just talked to a top Republican strategist in Washington. This is what he says, “I hear next week there is going to be a call for an election [to select DeLay’s replacement as majority leader]. I don’t know all the details, but a number of members have called the speaker to say we’ve got to have it. You need 50 signatures on a letter to trigger an election. The feeling has been that there aren’t 50 members with the courage to sign such a letter. That changed considerably since the Abramoff plea. Everybody believes there should be an election. DeLay has been focused on getting cleared in Texas. Members aren’t worried about Texas, they’re worried about Washington and Abramoff and the ‘06 elections.”
A leadership election could be held in late January, but it will probably be early February.
The two likely candidates at the moment are acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt and Rep. John Boehner. This strategist says he likes them both, but made this tart observation: “It’s Boehner, who is Mr. K St., versus Blunt, who left his wife of 30 years to marry a Queen of K St., a tobacco lobbyist–both trying to be leader of a party facing a K. St. scandal.”
“That,” he continues, “opens up a pathway for a third party candidate. It will be someone who has to be drafted.”
This strategist has a favorite: Rep. Eric Cantor (Virginia). “He’s clean; he presents himself well; he’s from the South; he projects well.”
He says the job of majority leader, in the current environment, has to be projecting “something wholesome, clean”: “That job’s going to be projecting,” getting a fresh face for the party. He adds: “Hastert has been asked, but refuses to play a more dominant role in the press. He just doesn’t feel comfortable in front of the camera.”
The leadership change, he says, “is about winning back the trust of the public.” He points to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll from December 16-18 that found that 49% of Americans say most members of Congress are corrupt. That’s just one point lower than in 1994, and this poll was taken before the Abramoff plea, or as this strategist calls it, “the black fedora and trenchcoat incident.”