This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 6, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Next week, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will have what insiders describe as a good chance to be elected as a member of the Senate Republican leadership team after less than a year as a senator.
Blunt, who learned how to drum up support and count votes as a U.S. House GOP leader, announced Tuesday that he would run against another freshman, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference.
In that position, Blunt would gain a seat at the table when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his leadership team meet to make policy decisions and devise strategy. If the GOP takes control of the Senate in the 2012 elections, that would give Blunt considerable influence in congressional decisions.
"America is facing a critical moment when we're going to decide who we're going to be as a nation, and I believe this is a good way for me to continue to contribute to this historic debate," Blunt said in a statement.
He added that he made the decision to contest the Number 5 Senate GOP post after "receiving encouragement from a number of my colleagues." The election will take place on Dec. 13, with the winner taking his new role in late January.
Blunt had been mulling over the decision, and likely sounding out fellow Republican senators to gauge their potential backing, since he first announced his interest in the post in September.
On paper, at least, Blunt appears to be the more likely candidate for the leadership position. Johnson, a Wisconsin businessman before being elected to the Senate last year, had no previous legislative experience and won election with strong tea-party backing.
Blunt, who is regarded as more of an establishment Republican, rose to high GOP leadership positions during his 14 years in the U.S. House -- elected as the Republican whip and, briefly, as the acting minority leader. On the day he was sworn into the Senate in January, Blunt became a member of the GOP whip team, helping to line up votes.
"One of the things they're thinking about as they've talked to me, particularly if we get in the majority and there's a majority in the House -- figuring out how to strategically make this process work from Day One is really important," Blunt told Politico. "And I may bring something to the table that nobody else does, but we'll see."
Johnson signaled to Capitol Hill reporters on Tuesday that he would likely portray himself as an outsider whose voice would be important in the GOP leadership. Asserting that last year's election was "about bringing some citizen legislators, people outside the system" into the mix, Johnson said he felt "pretty good" about his level of support.
The GOP conference vice-chair vacancy results from the announcement by the current Republican conference chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that he would step down from the GOP's Senate leadership. As part of the domino effect, the GOP policy committee chair, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is running uncontested for Alexander's position, and the current GOP conference vice chair, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., appears likely to be elected to fill Thune's current post.