WASHINGTON -- In a race framed by scandal, Representatives Roy Blunt and John Boehner pledged action on a reform agenda yesterday, as they launched competing campaigns to succeed Tom DeLay as House majority leader.
''We've had a tough run recently, some of it of our own making," Boehner, Republican of Ohio, wrote fellow Republicans, whose decade-long hold on power will be challenged by Democrats in the fall. ''But I also believe that if we are able to renew our energy and our commitment to our basic principles, the best is yet to come."
Blunt, the GOP whip who has served temporarily as stand-in for DeLay, made a similar observation. ''Unfortunately, the recent scandals have caused some to question whether we have lost our vision and whether the faith they have placed in us is justified," he wrote.
''While I have no doubt that it is, it will be difficult to move forward . . . until we regain the trust and confidence of our constituents by enacting new lobbying reforms and enhanced penalties," the Missouri Republican wrote.
Blunt and Boehner began their campaigns one day after DeLay, under indictment on campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas, reversed course and announced he would not attempt to reclaim his leadership post.
That decision came in response to pressure from fellow Republicans staggered by last week's courtroom admission of guilt by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff accepted a plea bargain that said he had provided lavish trips, golf outings, meals, and more to public officials ''in exchange for a series of official acts."
DeLay was not mentioned by name in the plea bargain. But court papers said the wife of a former aide to DeLay had received $50,000 from Abramoff as part of an attempt to influence legislation.
In an interview aired yesterday on the Fox News Channel, DeLay maintained that he is innocent. He said he reversed course because ''time was the enemy" and the party needed new leadership to allow it to pursue its election-year agenda.
Blunt, 55, is in his fifth term in Congress. His voting record reflects the priorities of the GOP majority that he helps to lead, including opposition to abortion, support for tax cuts, and approval for the landmark Medicare legislation that passed during President Bush's first term.
Blunt's political action committee, Rely on Your Beliefs, distributed nearly $700,000 in donations to GOP House candidates in 2003 and 2004, and nearly $300,000 in 2005.
Boehner, 56, in his eighth term, came to Congress while Democrats held control. He joined the Gang of Seven, a group of energetic young lawmakers eager to draw attention to a scandal involving the House bank and Democrats.
He won a seat in leadership when Republicans gained power in the 1994 elections. But clashes with DeLay soon followed, and Boehner lost his post in the fallout that followed a coup attempt against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republican of Georgia.
In 1996, Boehner became chairman of the committee that had the lead role in passing the No Child Left Behind Act.
Boehner has worked among Republicans and at times across party lines to compile a record of legislative accomplishment.