Rep. Boehner Cast As 'Man Who Would Be Speaker'

Ohio Rep. John Boehner is the leader of the House Republican caucus. He will certainly return to Washington for the next Congress with a stronger hand — and possibly a chance to be the next Speaker of the House. Boehner spent the weekend campaigning on behalf of candidates for Congress across his home state of Ohio.

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DON GONYEA: This is Don Gonyea in Ohio, where GOP leader John Boehner has been out telling Republicans to keep up the pressure right through Election Day.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): So, it's real simple: We have to win these races one at a time, one at a time all around the country.

GONYEA: This weekend, Boehner focused mostly on a handful of hotly contested Ohio congressional seats currently held by Democrats. He tells Republican voters and volunteers there's still a lot of work to be done. But at event after event, candidates who share the stage with Boehner have been trying out a new job title for him.

Unidentified Man #1: The next speaker of the House, John Boehner.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #2: John Boehner, the next speaker of the House of Representatives.

Unidentified Man #3: Speaker John Boehner.

Unidentified Man #4: ...to make John Boehner the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #5: The next speaker of the House is John Boehner.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: At several stops this weekend, the man who would be speaker was greeted by supporters wearing red t-shirts featuring a phrase which they also chant.

Unidentified Group: Fire Pelosi, fire Pelosi...

GONYEA: Boehner's stump speech is short, usually seven minutes or less. He points to the health care law as an example of the worst of the Obama administration and the current Congress. And in each speech, this one in the tiny village of Hanoverton in east Ohio, he recalls something President Obama told Republicans as they fought over healthcare.

Rep. BOEHNER: He said, and I'll quote: "That's what elections are for." Well, Mr. President, you're right. That's what elections are for. And on Tuesday, the American people, I think, are going to send a very loud message to Washington -a very loud message.

GONYEA: Boehner is often described as an old school Republican. The jokes he tells on the stump only reinforce that.

Rep. BOEHNER: Remember when Ronald Reagan was President? We had Bob Hope, we had Johnny Cash. Think about where we are today. We've got President Obama, but we have no hope, and we have no cash. God bless all of you.

GONYEA: The big question is: What kind of relationship will John Boehner have with the Obama White House if Republicans do win a majority in the U.S. House? At his own rallies, President Obama has criticized Boehner as not being interested in compromise.

But at Boehner's events, I asked people about the possibility of compromise with the White House. In Hanoverton, 27-year-old Dan Jenkins is carrying his 11-month-old daughter. He stops to talk.

Mr. DAN JENKINS: I pretty much would like President Obama to move a little bit, but I don't necessarily see that happening. So we're going to have to stick to our guns here and hold our ground.

GONYEA: But if the president's willing to budge and come to the middle?

Mr. JENKINS: It better be more towards the right than towards the left to see John Boehner move.

GONYEA: In Zanesville, 44-year-old Debbie Pettit was wearing one of those fire Pelosi t-shirts. She says she's been laid off for three years from a manufacturing job. Her husband is working. Pettit says she'd love to see the President and John Boehner find a way to work together. She says the country needs that. But she doesn't expect much.

Ms. DEBBIE PETTIT: Mr. Obama is not going to work with the Republicans at all. I really don't think he will. He's too liberal.

GONYEA: Yesterday morning, Boehner was doing a meet-and-greet with customers at a French pastry shop in Columbus. Also there was former Republican Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, who was a member of the U.S. House back in 1994 when Republicans swept into control.

There's been a lot of talk comparing that big GOP year to what could happen this year. Boehner was also a House member back then. Pryce says there's something important to Boehner to keep in mind now, with the GOP anticipating another big day tomorrow.

Ms. DEBORAH PRYCE (Former Republican Congresswoman): It is not a mandate for Republicans. It's a mandate to bring this country back to a smaller government, less spending, listening to people - actually listening to what they - and this is their voice, and they are angry as hell that nobody's been listening to them. And we're going to see that on Tuesday.

GONYEA: While that anger may result in John Boehner becoming speaker, it'll be his to contend with, as well.

DON GONYEA, NPR News, Columbus

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INSKEEP: Boy, when you listen to both sides as we just did over the last eight minutes, you hear the differences and similarities in what they say and how they say it.

And remember, you can listen to live election coverage Tuesday night on your local NPR station at npr.org and on your smartphone.

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