"What, is Katherine Harris counting the ballots in there?" Several journalists shot out the same joke after flak emerged from the closed-door House Republican conference meeting to announce that more ballots than actual voters had been tallied in the February 2 election for majority leader. The snafu resonated uncomfortably in the air of corruption and disarray that had initially set the context for this heated race to replace disgraced party leader Tom DeLay. So Republicans were relieved when they discovered that the counting disparity stemmed from an innocent clerical error and would not, in fact, produce a Florida-style donnybrook.
A run-off ballot was in order, however, and when word of the final tally leaked to the journalists and staffers shuffling distractedly outside the caucus room in the Cannon Office Building, the shock was palpable. By a vote of 122-109 on the second ballot, establishment favorite and DeLay protégé Roy Blunt of Missouri was bested by John Boehner (BAY-ner) of Ohio.
Many members, as several confirmed in chats after the vote, shared that sense of shock. "It was a highly dynamic environment in there," said Mark Kirk of Illinois. "It was tense." Many credited Boehner's victory to John Shadegg's insurgent candidacy, which conservative outlets and advocates across the country had championed as the key to redemption and spiritual restoration. "If Shadegg hadn't run, Blunt would have won on the first ballot," insisted Shadegg ally Jeff Flake of Arizona. "Shadegg put the focus on reform and change." Said Colorado's Joel Hefley, the former chairman of the ethics committee who twice admonished The Hammer in 2004 before being purged from the panel as punishment: "This vote signaled an attempt to get away from DeLay and his image. He was dragging the party down." Others were less blunt, but sounded the same note. "This is a new beginning!" cried Ohio's David Hobson. "I'm hopeful it bodes well for us in November."
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