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Despite Blog Support, Flake Bid a Long-shot

Every so often, the liberal or conservative blogospheres will get excited and mobilized to make something happen that probably never will. Such is the case with the growing movement to get Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R) onto the House Appropriations Committee.

Flake -- the House's best known scourge of spending earmarks and the Appropriations panel in general -- is making a play to get onto the committee, hoping to take the slot vacated recently when Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was appointed to fill Trent Lott's (R) Senate seat.

Flake's bid has stirred up significant support on conservative blogs like Captain's Quarters, and PoliPundit. There's a Facebook page devoted to his candidacy, and this site hatched by the conservative group FreedomWorks specifically to promote his effort.

There's just one problem: Flake's chances are very, very slim, no matter how many bloggers he has in his corner.

For all of Flake's popularity at the GOP grass-roots level and his close identification with the fiscal conservative cause, Capitol Briefing has heard repeatedly over the years from members and staff alike that Flake has a significant number of fellow House Republicans who simply don't like him.

Flake doesn't see it that way, and he told Capitol Briefing last week he was optimistic about his chances.

"I think they're improving all the time because the longer we're here, the the more tired we are of being in the minority," he said.

The typical case for Flake made in the blogosphere is that, as Red State puts it, his candidacy presents GOP leaders with a "great opportunity to prove they are serious about earmark reform and a conservative approach to spending. It's time to put some action behind their rhetoric."

Under the scenario painted by his blog supporters, if Republicans hand the seat to one of Flake's competitors -- who include Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the GOP's campaign chief -- it means the party isn't really committed to spending less money and getting rid of earmarks.

But it's not just appropriators and other big spenders who have had their problems with Flake over the years. GOP leaders, even conservative ones, have grumbled that Flake enjoys criticizing his own party and attracting the media limelight too much. And members who have had their projects targeted by Flake before as part of the Arizonan's "Egregious Earmark of the Week" series probably haven't forgotten.

Panel assignments are doled out by the House Republican Steering Committee, which includes members of the leadership, prominent committee chairmen and an eclectic group of rank-and-file members who represent various regions of the country and levels of seniority. Steering makes its recommendations, which must then be ratified by the full House Republican Conference.

The Steering meeting to fill the empty Appropriations slot hasn't yet been scheduled. Is it possible that Steering will vote give Flake the seat? Sure, it's possible, but given how many leaders, current appropriators and party-line committee chairmen there are on the panel, Flake's chances simply aren't good.

And could the full GOP Conference decide to overrule Steering if it votes to give the seat to someone else instead of Flake? Again, anything is possible. But Capitol Briefing definitely wouldn't bet on it.

Now that doesn't mean conservative blogs shouldn't agitate for Flake, even if they're unsuccessful, because GOP members will take notice. For the same reason, liberal blogs should keep up their campaign for impeachment, even if it's not going to happen.

"I think it helps," Flake said of the blogosphere's support for his bid. Asked for an example of when blogs helped shift the debate on an issue in Congress, he cited last year's fight over immigration reform.

But that debate took place out in the open, and while an increasing number of lawmakers are paying attention to blogs, the Appropriations contest is one that will be decided the old-fashioned way -- by a secret vote, on paper, behind closed doors. No bloggers allowed.

By Ben Pershing  |  January 21, 2008; 7:40 PM ET
Categories:  GOP Leaders , House , Purse Strings  
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