Boehner, speaker in waiting, balances GOP factions

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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, could walk down most American streets without turning a head.

But the perpetually tanned, chain-smoking Mr. Boehner might be the next House speaker and a huge force in national politics, trying to manage an increasingly libertarian-leaning Republican caucus while leading the opposition to President Obama’s policies.

For those who know Mr. Boehner, the question is which version of the House Republican leader will emerge as speaker if the GOP takes at least 40 seats from Democrats in November.

Will it be the policy-minded lawmaker who sometimes shows bipartisan tendencies, such as when he worked with the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, on major education bills?

Or will it be the fiery partisan of recent months who shouted “hell no” to Mr. Obama’s health care bill and who threw the Democrats’ massive economic stimulus bill to the House floor in a theatrical rebuke?

Mr. Boehner left little doubt that the president and other Democrats will face fierce resistance in the House if he is speaker, starting with a push to dismantle Mr. Obama’s hard-fought health care law.

“We’re going to do everything we can to prevent this law from being implemented, and I mean everything,” Mr. Boehner said in a recent interview. “I think it will ruin health care and bankrupt the country.”

In truth, Mr. Obama’s veto powers will make it virtually impossible to repeal the law. Still, Mr. Boehner said, he would use every parliamentary and appropriations trick available, including making sure “they don’t get the funds to hire employees to implement the law.”

Mr. Boehner, 60, has been raising his profile in recent days, giving well-publicized speeches in Cleveland and Milwaukee criticizing Mr. Obama’s economic and military policies.

Still, he knows he won’t become a household name overnight. His ramped-up schedule is mainly a signal to GOP colleagues and political insiders that he’s ready to assume leadership of the House — and in some respects, the entire party — if voters end four years of Democratic House control and Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s speakership.

For Mr. Boehner, leading a full-throated Republican opposition to Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats might be the easy part. His bigger challenge looms on his right. Restless and uncompromisingly conservative Republicans probably will expand their ranks after “tea party” loyalists win some races Nov. 2.

Mr. Boehner already has a somewhat wary alliance with several younger and more dogmatic GOP members. They include Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the party’s second-ranking House leader.

Mr. Cantor and two colleagues — Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin — are publishing a Republican manifesto, “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders,” which is promoted in a flashy video.

There’s one glaring omission in the hoopla over the book: any reference to Mr. Boehner.

Republicans say there’s little chance of a coup attempt if the GOP takes control of the House. But expectations have soared so high that every leadership post, including Mr. Cantor’s, could be in play if they fall short.

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