How to handicap the Hensarling/Bachmann contest for House GOP Conference Chairman

National Journal's Hotline has Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling ahead of Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann 10-5 in their contest for chairman of the House Republican Conference. But that's just counting the publicly declared members. The real “whip count” is impossible to know at this point.

So how to handicap a caucus election that is by secret ballot? The vote totals always get reported, after the vote, but how individual members voted is often impossible to know unless they tell you, which most usually don't.

Depending on how many of the still-uncalled House races fall to the GOP, the winner of the chairman balloting will need to gain at least 125 or so votes out of the 240 or so to be cast. Roughly one-fourth of the caucus will be freshmen. The voting will take place on Nov. 17.

There is talk of Hensarling having at least 100 members committed to his support. That sounds credible because the outgoing chairman, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, quickly announced his support of the Texan. The Tea Party Caucus of about 45 probably should be counted as Bachmann's base of support.

Even if Bachmann were to get unanimous support of the Tea Party Caucus and the freshmen, she stlll comes up short. That calculus is why odds are that a compromise is in the works that would see Bachmann take a position yet to be determined elsewhere in the leadership.

In any event, there are signs Bachmann's heart isn't in the chairman's race. According to a CNN report, at least two of the freshmen are going for Hensarling in part because Bachmann has not reached out to them. If there are two, there are likely others.

And on Monday, Bachmann told USA Today that whether she wins or not isn't as important as her succeeding in getting the “ideas and ideals” of the Tea Party movement into the House GOP leadership.

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