- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

Conservative activists and interest groups who were instrumental in supporting Rep. Tom DeLay are split on whom to back or whether to choose sides at all in the race to succeed the Texas Republican as House majority leader.

Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation, and Morton Blackwell, founder of the Leadership Institute, said Rep. Roy Blunt’s efforts at cultivating conservatives will pay off for the Missouri Republican.

“I am very much in favor of Roy Blunt. I think he’s done an excellent job as the acting majority leader, and I don’t see any reason to change that,” Mr. Weyrich said.

“He has made himself available to conservative gatherings and meetings for a very long time,” Mr. Blackwell said. “I would say without question, conservative leaders know Blunt the best.”

Mr. Blunt is running against Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio and Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona.

The Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy group that funds conservative Republican candidates, endorsed Mr. Shadegg, saying his time as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee showed that he could advance his ideas by working with all Republican Party factions.

“He was a great leader of the RSC. He energized the group, he was passionate, he was effective, and he was a guy the whole conference could work with,” said Patrick J. Toomey, the club’s president and a former member of Congress.

“Shadegg’s a guy who’s been a movement conservative from a way back,” he said. “I think on the outside, movement conservative groups rally for Shadegg.”

Activists who remain neutral said all three men carry strong conservative credentials and voting records.

“They’re going to have to make their decision without me,” said Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, who said all three candidates are qualified to be majority leader and that the debate is healthy for the Republican Party.

Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, other major players among conservative activist groups, are taking the same hands-off approach.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute think tank, would not endorse a candidate but praised Mr. Boehner for his efforts to allow students to hear evidence both for and against evolution.

Andrew Schauder, federal affairs director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, said all three representatives have “done some great things,” but specifically mentioned Mr. Boehner, who heads the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He said a landmark school-choice program for the District of Columbia “couldn’t have been done without Chairman Boehner’s persistence.”

Michael Franc, vice president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, said his group might have endorsed a candidate if the race were between a conservative and a more liberal Republican, but said that each man is a strong conservative.

Mr. Weyrich said Mr. Blunt has been criticized unfairly as acting majority leader, especially in comparisons with Mr. DeLay.

“Blunt has had the great difficulty of trying to pass major initiatives without a single Democrat vote, and for that reason, I think he’s been given a bum rap,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Mr. Blunt “listens well,” Mr. Blackwell said. “It’s obvious he’s not just right on the conservative principles, but he’s cooperative and knows how to make things happen.”

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