WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is waging a complex campaign to win the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee -- and it doesn't help that he is technically ineligible to hold the gavel.
Barton is lobbying to change the rules of the Republican conference, which limit a committee's top-ranking member to three consecutive terms. Barton has spent the past two terms as the ranking member in the minority, and served as chairman in the 109th Congress and part of the session before that, after the infamous revolving-door exit of Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.).
Barton and his allies have called the term-limit rule "ambiguous." In the Senate, Republicans have interpreted the rule to mean that the limit resets when the chamber changes party hands -- making it especially meaningless in the upper house -- and Barton is hoping to get a similar deal.
That's unlikely. House GOP leadership aides have made it clear that the rules, as they interpret them, require Barton to receive a term-limit waiver, and they have no intention of granting him one.
The Texas Republican embarrassed the party in June with his infamous apology to BP during the Gulf oil spill, and the aides said Republican leaders have not forgiven him for ignoring their calls to replace his staff director, David Cavicke, who has served on the committee staff since 1995.
Barton doesn't have much of a chance. HuffPost's Ryan Grim reported earlier this week that Barton's "much-ridiculed" campaign had at least "entered the realm of respectability" when he earned the backing of several prominent House Republicans, including one of his rivals for the position, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). But Shimkus has since clarified that while he thinks Barton should get another chance, he's still more than ready to take Barton's place.
"I've never been out," Shimkus told reporters. "Joe and I have always said ... if Joe was out, I would be in."
That sounds like an assumption that Joe will be out. Barton appears more bullish on the waiver question.
"Look, I'm a member of the Steering Committee, I've been on the Republican Steering Committee for 15 to 20 years," he told a handful of reporters at the Capitol earlier this week. "It's a very touchy-feely process. You've got to work and listen to people, and I'm doing that."
The race has gone from competitive to ugly in recent weeks, with popular favorite Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) pressured to go on the offensive amid accusations that he's not conservative enough for the position.
Earlier this month, critics sifted through Upton's voting record and circulated an anonymous memo noting that Upton wants to phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of something more eco-friendly, among other moderate things.
While some GOP sources have charged that Barton was behind the opposition research, the Texas Republican has hotly denied having a part in it.
While he said leadership is "not committed to any specific plan" for the chair, Barton said he holds out hope that he'll have another shot at it.
"I think I have a very good chance of getting the rule clarified, and if that happens, I think I have a very good chance to be nominated," he said.
The steering committee will likely consider Barton's request in December, after lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving holidays.