Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Goal Salience and the 2006 Race for House Majority Leader

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Goal Salience and the 2006 Race for House Majority Leader

Article excerpt

In intraparty congressional leadership races, the characteristics of candidates and the nature of their campaigns increase the salience of particular legislator goals and, in doing so, influence legislators' support of particular leadership candidates. Using multinomial logit regression analysis, the authors test this "goal salience" theory to determine what factors predict individual legislators' commitments to candidates in the 2006 House Republican majority leader's race. Notably, among other factors, the level of campaign donations made to Republican House members had a positive and statistically significant relationship with the choice of specific candidates.

Keywords: U.S. Congress; U.S. House of Representatives; congressional leadership; leadership elections; party leadership; Republican Party; leadership PAC

When a congressional party chooses its leaders, legislators have an important, if rare, opportunity to make consequential decisions about their party's direction, image, and strategic course. The dynamics of such elections and the conduct of the campaigns that precede them can reveal major coalitions, factions, and fault lines within the legislative party. In addition, because stability is the norm in leadership posts (Nelson 1977; Peabody 1967, 1976) and there are "leadership ladders" of succession (Brown and Peabody 1992), such election outcomes tend to endure and affect subsequent leadership choices. Despite their importance, however, such elections have not received much attention from researchers. Convinced that the use of the secret ballot make such races "family affairs" (Bibby and Davidson 1967,143), scholars have treated these choices as more personal than political (Polsby 1969). Moreover, secret ballots leave scholars without individual-level data to analyze.

The few studies that have uncovered and analyzed individual-level data indicate that legislators choose particular leaders to advance their individual and collective goals (Harris 2006; Kelly 1995), but the salience of particular objectives may vary from one leadership race to the next. Analyzing the 1969 race for House Speaker, Matthew Green (2006) proposed a "goal salience" theory of leadership races, arguing that the importance of each goal for a given election depends upon several factors, including the reputation of candidates, their prior behavior as legislators, and the nature of their campaigns.

Adding to this literature on the determinants of leadership choice, our article tests goal salience theory for the 2006 House Republican race for majority leader. In that race, John Boehner's (OH) surprise second-ballot victory over the frontrunner, Majority Whip (and acting Majority Leader) Roy Blunt (MO), concluded nearly four weeks of intense intraparty campaigning between Boehner, Blunt, and a third candidate, John Shadegg (AZ). On the first ballot, Blunt's 110 votes left him 6 votes shy of a majority, forcing him in a head-to-head match up with Boehner, the second-place finisher. Boehner then surged ahead on the second ballot, beating Blunt by a vote of 122 to 109. The contest, which nearly evenly split House Republicans, reflected a critical choice about the internal distribution of legislative influence and the party's strategic direction and public image. As whip under Majority Leader Tom DeLay (TX), Blunt represented the strong, centralized party leadership establishment, whereas Boehner promised greater committee autonomy and rank-and-file input in party decisions. Occurring amid legal and ethical controversies involving DeLay, Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (CA), and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the election was also cast as an important measure of whether the GOP would take steps toward reform. Shadegg in particular, the favorite of ideological conservatives, was seen by many as best able to wear the reform mantle and offer a fresh direction for the party. Though he was eliminated on the first ballot, the choice between Blunt and Boehner was stark enough; by choosing Boehner, Republicans brought about what Conference Chair Deborah Pryce (OH) deemed a "pretty major shift" for the party (O'Connor 2006d). …

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