Blunt says he’s confident he’ll become majority leader, but two rivals remain in race |

Blunt says he’s confident he’ll become majority leader, but two rivals remain in race

BALTIMORE – Rep. Roy Blunt, the acknowledged front-runner, drew criticism from both his rivals in the race for House majority leader on Monday as all three contenders sought support from rank and file conservatives.Blunt, R-Mo., said he remains confident of a first-ballot win at Thursday’s elections to pick a successor to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “If anybody can count members of the House, I can count members of the House,” he said, referring to his experience as GOP whip.Reps. John Boehner of Ohio and John Shadegg of Arizona both cast doubt of Blunt’s claim as the two maneuvered for the votes needed to survive for a second-round run-off.”There are people in the group that are listed on Blunt’s public list (of supporters) that will vote for me on the first ballot,” said Shadegg. He declined to name any.Shadegg also said “the honorable thing to do” would be for Blunt to resign as whip while running for majority leader, a step the Missourian has said he will not take.For his part, Boehner told reporters he is in the best position to help Republicans through a difficult political period. Blunt, he said, “is a member of the leadership team. He has been a member of the leadership team and members want to choose someone who truly can lead change.”Boehner also responded with a simple “yes” when asked whether he believes Blunt has made commitments to individual Republicans to secure their votes. He offered no specific examples, and Blunt denies having done so.All three contenders talked to reporters. Their appearances before the conservative lawmakers at a meeting of the Republican Study Committee were closed to the public.The meeting took place as lawmakers prepare for the beginning of an election-year session of Congress. Democrats have long signaled they intend to attack Republicans for a “culture of corruption,” citing DeLay’s indictment on state campaign finance charges in Texas, the resignation of former Rep. Randy Cunningham of California, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes, and several guilty pleas by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, who had close ties to DeLay, has pledged to cooperate in a continuing federal investigation into congressional corruption.Against that backdrop, House Democrats issued a written statement saying that Blunt, Boehner and Shadegg offer “more of the same” as DeLay.As evidence, they said all three men vote with DeLay more than 90 percent of the time. In addition, they said, Shadegg accepted $4,500 in campaign contributions from DeLay, and Blunt “took $16,000 from DeLay” and gave $20,000 to DeLay.Politicians often give contributions to one another, but the Democratic statement underscored the minority party’s determination to make DeLay and allegations of corruption a part of its election-year strategy.Republicans confront poor polls as they settle in for the new session of Congress, a topic Blunt was asked about when he spoke to about 65 or so conservatives.Burson Taylor, Blunt’s spokeswoman, said the congressman responded that President Bush’s own low polls are partly the cause. He went on to say that House Republicans must take steps to make sure lawmakers “can advance our message” better than is now the case, she added. As an example, Blunt said Republicans should try not to pass major legislation in the middle of the night, she added.Vail, Colorado

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