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House GOP to Vote on New Leadership

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Today, House Republicans will elect a successor to majority leader Tom DeLay. He was forced to give up his leadership post after he was indicted for laundering campaign funds.

This is an important vote for Republicans, and many are nervous about their party's relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Joining me now to talk about the race is NPR's Andrea Seabrook. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK reports:

Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, could you just run down the candidates for majority leader for us?

SEABROOK: Well, Linda, there are three. At the top of the ballot is Roy Blunt, he's from Missouri. He's the current majority whip, and acting majority leader. He's been holding Tom DeLay's place since DeLay was forced to step down, so he's got some experience at the job, but he's also been close to DeLay for a long time. He was DeLay's deputy in the leadership for many years, and with the current climate in the Capital, that could be something of a liability.

Blunt also has serious ties with Washington lobbyists, including being married to one; a lobbyist for Altrea, that's the Marlboro cigarette maker, and some in Congress are sort of nonplussed about that as well.

Next in the republican leadership ballot is Ohio congressman John Baynor. He's the current Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, and was once in the House leadership under Newt Gingrich. Remember that name, Linda?

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, vaguely.

SEABROOK: Well, since then, he's has had his own group of supporters among House republicans. He's very generous with campaign donations to colleagues, and is well liked by many. Like Blunt, Baynor has strong ties with Washington lobbyists, and that too could be a liability for him in this race.

And then, the dark horse candidate, Linda, is Arizona congressman John Shadegg. He's probably not a household name. He's a conservative Republican who's running in part because he and his supporters aren't comfortable with Blunt and Baynor's connections with lobbyists. And Shadegg has support among his colleagues. I mean, yesterday he picked up the endorsement of Senator John McCain. And though McCain doesn't have a vote in this, his endorsement makes an important statement.

WERTHEIMER: Blunt is assumed to be the frontrunner. He says he has the votes to win, but, of course, this is a secret ballot, and it's a leadership race. So how reliable is that estimate?

SEABROOK: Yeah, that's really the question, and that's why everybody is watching this vote so carefully today. I mean, they say that when you have a secret ballot vote, there ends up being twice as many public endorsements as there are actual votes in the race, because people end up endorsing more than one lawmaker, or saying they're going to vote for more than one lawmaker. So, we'll just have to see how it shakes out.

WERTHEIMER: The Democrats have been talking about a culture of corruption among Republicans on Capital Hill, so how are the ethics scandals playing in this race?

SEABROOK: Well, it's really chief among the issues, here. Since DeLay was forced to step down, because, not necessarily because of his indictment in Texas, but more because of his connections with Jack Abramoff and that sort of Washington scandal that's playing out. It's really a big question. Many republicans are looking to this race to sort of take the party a step away from Jack Abramoff, away from the lobbying scandal, and really make a statement that they're starting out this all important election year with a fresh face.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Andrea.

SEABROOK: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
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