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Reynolds' leadership ascent in holding pattern <br> Clarence congressman continues as GOP campaign committee chairman in House but could be in line for a promotion after the 2006 elections.

Although he's mentioned as a future Republican majority leader, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of Clarence would wait until at least after the next Congress convenes in 2007 to make a move.

Sources close to Reynolds, who is chairman of the GOP's House campaign committee, said the party almost never changes its chairman in the middle of an election cycle. Democrats, however, speculated that Reynolds, who now ranks eighth on the Republican's House leadership ladder, was passed over as temporary replacement for indicted Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

"Reynolds had a tougher-than-expected election last year," one senior Democrat said, "and may have another one next year."

The House Republican Conference on Wednesday moved quickly to temporarily replace DeLay with Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the current Republican whip -- No. 3 in the leadership ranks.

Unless unseated by the House Republican Conference, Blunt would serve in that role until the 110th Congress convenes in the first week of January 2007, said Canisius College political analyst Michael V. Haselswerdt.

That tenure would make it all the more difficult for Reynolds to overtake Blunt before the current term ends.

But after that, "Reynolds has a real shot at majority leader in the next Congress," said Haselswerdt, a Democrat. "This is because the Republicans are much more open about where they get their leaders from."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., "seemed to come out of nowhere" to become Newt Gingrich's successor in 1999, Haselswerdt said.

On the other hand, Democrats tend to promote strictly from the existing chain of command, he added.

A long-term plus among core Republicans for Reynolds are his consistently strong statements backing DeLay against his detractors.

Reynolds also showed his loyalty to DeLay by donating $5,000 to the majority leader's legal defense trust. The money came out of one of Reynolds' political action committee funds.

Blunt, who gave $15,000, is the largest single congressional giver to the DeLay defense fund.

In the wake of DeLay's indictment, Reynolds' statement strongly mirrored the majority leader's.

Reynolds called District Attorney Ronnie Earle of Austin, Texas, where the grand jury indicted DeLay, "an unapologetic Democrat partisan."

"Throughout his three-year scrutiny of the majority leader, Earle has been incapable of separating his personal politics from his professional responsibilities," Reynolds said. "He has used his investigatory powers to energize Democrat activists, and Democrat activists have, in turn, fueled the zeal with which he has pursued DeLay.

"Until Majority Leader Tom DeLay has his day in court, it is vitally important he be afforded the same presumption of innocence afforded to every other American."

On the legislative side, Reynolds has been willing to absorb pain for Hastert and DeLay. He recently opposed efforts by a powerful Republican committee chairman to push for passage of President Bush's legislation to offer personal retirement accounts in a revision of the Social Security system.

Reynolds told Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, that forcing a floor vote on changes to Social Security could hurt GOP prospects for retaining their majority in next year's elections.

Reynolds' 2004 Democratic opponent, Akron industrialist Jack Davis, on Wednesday pointed to a 2003 Buffalo News report that DeLay had helped Reynolds persuade the New York State Legislature to draw him a helpful district.

"For people with leadership potential, you want them to have a district that allows them to get their work done and not spend a whole lot of time running for re-election," DeLay said at the time.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, who represents a neighboring district, said, "The criminal indictment of Tom DeLay is the first chink in the armor of corruption that has so clouded, consumed and controlled the Republican majority over the past few years.

"The fact that nine months into this Congress we still don't have an operating Ethics Committee is further evidence that congressional Republicans have no interest in changing their unethical ways."

News Washington Bureau Reporter Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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