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Boehner re-elected House GOP leader

House Majority Leader John Boehner appears on NBC's "Meet the Press" in this Feb. 5, 2006 file photo.Alex Wong / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was re-elected Wednesday as House Republican leader, tasked with reviving a party diminished in numbers and fighting to stay relevant as Democrats take over the White House and strengthen their majorities in Congress.

Boehner, 59, won a second term over a late challenger, Rep. Dan Lungren of California.

But while Republicans retained the generally popular Boehner, they also were endorsing some shake-ups at the top, reflecting pressure for change following another election defeat.

Two members of the party's conservative wing ran unopposed for two other top spots in the leadership. Eric Cantor of Virginia, currently the chief deputy whip, was taking over as Republican whip, while Mike Pence of Indiana will be the next chairman of the Republican Conference.

They succeed Roy Blunt of Missouri and Adam Putnam of Florida, who stepped down after the election.

Pence was former head of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative faction that now makes up more than half of House Republicans. With a few seats still undecided, the GOP will lose at least 20 seats in the next session of Congress. They will go into the new Congress with fewer than 180 seats in the 435-seat body.

Boehner, first elected to Congress in 1990, is a conservative who aligned himself with Newt Gingrich as Republicans fought their way back into power in 1995.

In remarks to his colleagues before Wednesday's vote, Boehner said the GOP now has a unique chance to renew its fight for "smaller, more accountable government."

"From the Northeast to the Deep South, there is a distrust of big government that will only intensify in the months ahead. This is an opportunity we haven't had in years. We have to seize it — together," Boehner told them, according to excerpts released by his office.

While a staunch supporter of the Bush administration on such issues as Iraq and the benefits of tax cuts, Boehner has also worked closely with Democrats. As former chairman of the committee in charge of education and labor issues, he was a key player in moving the No Child Left Behind act and major pension reform.

Boehner narrowly defeated Blunt in January 2006 to become Republican Majority Leader after Tom DeLay of Texas left that post. A year later, after Republicans lost their majority in the fall election and Illinois' Dennis Hastert gave up the speakership, Boehner assumed leadership of the party.

While there was no major opposition to Boehner's re-election, Lungren stepped in as a candidate last week, saying lawmakers should be given a chance to air their thoughts after the election defeat.

"It's clear Republicans must find new ways to reconnect with the American people and address their priorities," Boehner and Lungren wrote in a joint letter to their colleagues.