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Crashing the House Party

Shadegg is gaining steam, but it's still Blunt's race to lose.

8:45 PM, Jan 19, 2006 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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The magic number in the February 2 election is 116. That's how many votes--a majority of the 231 House Republicans--a candidate needs to win. Blunt publicly lists over 80 supporters but insists he has the private backing of more than 116. According to Republican sources, there is a good deal of crossover among the names on Blunt's list, Boehner's list, and Shadegg's list. The pro-Shadegg Republican guesses that "40 or so" of Blunt's publicly declared votes are "fear-and-intimidation votes"--from members worried about retribution should Blunt lose the leader's race but keep his post as majority whip.

That may be wishful thinking. Either way, should Blunt win a plurality but not a clear majority of first-ballot votes, the election would go to a runoff pitting Blunt head to head with the second-place finisher. If that turns out to be Shadegg, expect lots of previously pro-Boehner Republicans to back Shadegg over Blunt. Indeed, in a Shadegg-Blunt runoff, the margin of victory could be razor-thin. (There is also the slim possibility that, should Shadegg continue to rack up endorsements, Boehner could bow out of the contest before the first ballot.)

A final point. While each candidate has been jockeying for maximum credibility among conservatives, the race might ultimately hinge on the two dozen or so Republican moderates. The conventional wisdom says these members will gravitate mainly to Blunt and Boehner. (Some already have, such as Connecticut's Chris Shays, who endorsed Blunt, and Delaware's Mike Castle, who endorsed Boehner.) But Shadegg beefed up his own moderate appeal last year by spearheading a series of "unity dinners" among Republicans to discuss immigration. These events brought together GOP House members from all sides of the debate--everyone from Colorado's Tom Tancredo to Arizona's Jim Kolbe.

The unity dinners may have seemed a good idea to Shadegg at the time. In retrospect, they're looking even better.

Duncan Currie is a reporter at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.