If Republicans retake the House of Representatives in November elections, as many analysts bet they will, Boehner will be the odds-on favorite to replace Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the number-three US elected official.
It would be a remarkable victory for Boehner, whose office has peppered reporters over the past few weeks with media accounts of his hardscrabble early life as the second of 12 children in a working-class family from Ohio.
“He did everything — washing dishes, mopping floors, waiting tables, tending bar,” an aide said on condition of anonymity.
And Boehner has worked relentlessly to keep angry US voters focused on the sour US economy and unemployment, demanding to know “where are the jobs?” and urging cuts in government spending to rein in galloping US debt.
He and his top deputies have vowed to cut taxes, beef up military spending, and roll back regulations they say stifle business and smother job creation — the top issue in the elections.
Obama and his Democratic allies, meanwhile, have attacked the dapper, perpetually tan-looking golf enthusiast as a consummate political insider and key architect of the economic policies that fostered the painful recession.
During an early September visit to Boehner’s home state, Obama blasted the lawmaker as having “no new policies” and “no new ideas” and peddling “the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place.”
Democrats have also highlighted a mid-1990s incident in which Boehner was caught distributing checks from tobacco lobbyists to colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives — a legal, though widely condemned, step.
“He admitted he made a mistake and led the fight to change the rules to eliminate the practice,” said the Boehner aide.
Boehner has led House Republicans in near-lockstep opposition to Obama’s agenda, notably fighting his economic stimulus package and his health care overhaul but lacking the majority needed to stop them from becoming law.
As speaker, however, and backed by Republican committee chairs, he would enjoy vast powers to shape the agenda in Washington and hamstring the White House through to Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
Boehner has also worked to harness the energy of the insurgent Tea Party conservative movement in a bid to fuel a Republican takeover of the House, notably stoking their anger at the president’s landmark health legislation.
“This bill is the greatest threat to freedom that I have seen in the 19 years I’ve been here in Washington,” he thundered at a November 2009 rally on the steps of the US Capitol, effectively declaring the measure a worse menace than Islamist terrorism.
Boehner has worked with Democrats in the past on issues like education, and aides note that he strongly backed Obama’s request for a troop “surge” in Afghanistan.
But the lawmaker has also made plain that he has little personal chemistry with Obama — who once mocked his foe’s complexion as being “not a color that appears in the natural world.”
“We talk about golf. We’ll talk about our skin color. We have a nice relationship,” Boehner told Fox News Channel in early October. “The problem we have is that when we talk to each other, there’s no connection.”
“When I talk about the real world, it doesn’t seem to register,” he said, reprising a popular Republican attack on Obama as aloof.
Boehner has been unrepentant about his close ties to the tobacco industry, historically his most generous backer, recently telling CBS television that cigarettes are legal and Americans have a right to decide whether to smoke.
“I wish I didn’t have this bad habit — and it is a bad habit,” said Boehner, whose favorite brand is reportedly Camel Ultra Lights. “And you know at some point, maybe I’ll decide I’ve had enough of it.”
All 435 House seats are up for grabs on November 2, and Republicans need a net gain of 39 to retake the majority. The party also has a long-shot chance at winning the 10 seats they need to take the Senate, where 37 spots are in play.
If they win a majority, Republicans would elect a speaker when the new Congress convenes in January.
Copyright © 2010 AFP