In November 1998, Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) was unceremoniously pushed out of his post as Republican Conference chairman after disastrous election results and a tumultuous four years in leadership.
In the six years since then, Boehner has quietly worked to rekindle old relationships and build new ones and in the process has established a broad political network that includes House Members, current and former Congressional aides, and a host of prominent lobbyists.
Those relationships could be the key in determining whether Boehner will ever return to the leadership ranks. While Boehner has long been considered a potential candidate whenever Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) decides to retire, more recently another potential avenue to power has opened up.
Though there is no indication that Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is anywhere near stepping down from his post, the swirl of controversy surrounding the Texan has prompted a renewed focus on Boehner as a potential candidate to replace him.
Yet Boehner has not stepped up his public political activity or done anything else to give the impression that he is campaigning for a future leadership job. Fearful that he could be seen as trying to push DeLay out the door — a perception that would likely be fatal to Boehner’s chances — the Ohio lawmaker and his allies have worked hard to tamp down any rumors about interest in a return to leadership.
“The timing on this is key,” said a Republican close to the leadership. “I think it makes a lot more sense for him to lay low.”
And even if a job opened, Boehner would by no means be assured of winning a leadership race. Depending on how the dominoes fall and the post in question, Boehner could end up facing DeLay, Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) or National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), all of whom boast formidable networks of their own.
As a result, some senior Republican Members and aides, including those who like Boehner personally, wonder whether he has the depth of support among lawmakers that would be necessary to beat one of those candidates.
On Capitol Hill, Boehner has made friends and allies through the Education and the Workforce Committee, which he chairs, and the Agriculture Committee, on which he serves as vice chairman. On the social front, Boehner has developed other relationships through two of his favorite pursuits — golf and smoking.
In addition to the Members he has met through his policy work and fundraising, Boehner also has former aides in key positions, including Brian Gaston and Sam Geduldig in Blunt’s office.
Off the Hill, former Boehner staffers hold posts in the White House and on K Street, where the Ohio lawmaker has numerous fans.
Boehner gets more fundraising attention than one would expect for the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, a panel that corporate lobbyists do not consider an “A” assignment. In the previous election cycle, Boehner’s leadership PAC, the Freedom Project, reported more than $1.5 million in receipts.
One of Boehner’s former aides, Josh Mathis, a lobbyist at Bockorny Petrizzo, said lobbyists appreciate his one-time boss because “he is honest, upfront, you always know exactly where you stand with him, to put it mildly. He’s very approachable and accessible.”