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Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) has quickly secured the support of conservatives in his bid for GOP Conference vice chairman, but Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) could still prove to be a tough opponent in any head-to-head matchup if leadership members and other establishment Republicans side with him.
Blunt said Monday that he is still considering whether to join Johnson in the race for the fifth-ranking Republican leadership position. The Wisconsin freshman, who has already obtained 11 public endorsements, indicated in an interview with Roll Call on Tuesday evening that he is prepared to handle competition in an election set for early January.
“That’d be fine. Certainly I appreciate serving with Sen. Blunt,” Johnson said. “I would bring a slightly different perspective” to the position.
Johnson was elected in 2010 in his first bid for public office. The wealthy Republican spent the previous three decades running an exporting and manufacturing company and is an accountant. Blunt, also elected last year, spent the prior 14 years in the House, during which he served as Whip and for a brief time as acting Majority Leader.
Blunt’s leadership experience and pragmatic streak could make him an attractive alternative to Johnson among current leaders, centrists and establishment figures in the Senate Republican Conference. The Missourian is a deputy on Sen. Jon Kyl’s (Ariz.) Whip team and also might be valued for his strong relationships with House Republicans and his understanding of how the other chamber operates.
“Johnson is always a big critic of how things are being run, but he has yet to show that he understands how to get things done in Congress,” a senior Republican Senate aide said. “Just being a vocal critic may not be enough of a selling point to a caucus that wants to see real results on some very tough issues.”
Johnson’s office declined to discuss its strategy for whipping votes or how many endorsements the Senator might have beyond those that have been publicized. Johnson suggested he is doing his own whipping, saying he has called every Member of the Republican Conference to discuss his candidacy and ask for support in addition to having conversations on the floor.
Meanwhile, GOP sources confirmed that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a tea party favorite and chairman of the Steering Committee, has been urging Senators to back Johnson for Conference vice chairman. Johnson’s supporters include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.); Saxby Chambliss (Ga.); Tom Coburn (Okla.); Bob Corker (Tenn.); Mike Enzi (Wyo.); Lindsey Graham (S.C.); Mike Lee (Utah); Rand Paul (Ky.); Marco Rubio (Fla.) and David Vitter (La.).