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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz plans to mount a long-shot bid to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, a sudden decision that leaves the Utah Republican with only a few days to whip up support.
Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, joins the speaker race less than a week before the GOP caucus is scheduled to select its choice for the top job, which seemed a lock for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Chaffetz is expected to formally announce his run for speaker on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace.
The four-term Utah congressman has been phoning fellow Republicans to ask for their support, pitching that he could best unite the fractured caucus and help win the messaging war that he says Boehner lost and McCarthy can't take on, according to sources close to Chaffetz.
In the calls, they added, Chaffetz also touts his conservative credentials in challenging the Obama administration from his perch on the oversight panel and his frequent media appearances.
The Utah Republican criticized McCarthy this week over comments he made politicizing the congressional investigation of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's actions during the terrorist attack on Benghazi, Libya, that cost four Americans their lives.
The five-term California Republican noted that the House's probe of the attacks had dinged Clinton's poll numbers in her presidential race, hinting that the effort was political.
Chaffetz told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that McCarthy gave an "absolutely inappropriate statement."
Boehner, R-Ohio, stunned Washington a week ago, when he announced he would resign his speaker post and his House seat at the end of October after facing a backlash from conservatives in his GOP caucus, accusing him of not pushing their agenda.
At the time, Chaffetz balked at running for a leadership slot, saying in a short email when asked if he had intentions to run, "No. Focused on Oversight."
Chaffetz had been ginning up support for Rep. Trey Gowdy to run for speaker until the South Carolina Republican said he wasn't interested.
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., is the only challenger who has publicly announced that he would go up against McCarthy.
The House GOP caucus will meet Thursday to select its choice for speaker. A floor vote to elect the speaker has not been scheduled.
While Chaffetz has been draining his cellphone battery ringing up House Republicans, he's still considered a dark horse in the race. McCarthy, Boehner's No. 2 and who the departing speaker noted would make a great House No. 1, is the strong favorite.
But winning may not be Chaffetz's goal anyway, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"This is a case," Sabato said, "where a politician can potentially win by losing."
Chaffetz earned good press this week, Sabato said, when he swiftly responded to McCarthy's comments about the Benghazi inquiry and when a government watchdog released a report showing some Secret Service agents had attempted to embarrass Chaffetz by leaking the fact he was rejected for a job 12 years ago.
"The Secret Service targeted him a lot more energetically than they did the fellow who scaled the wall and got deep inside the White House," Sabato said. "It was so outrageous that Chaffetz became a sympathetic figure and much better known."
Chaffetz also took some dings though not in conservative quarters for his grilling of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards at a congressional hearing.
Even if Chaffetz cannot pull enough votes to win the speakership, Sabato said, he may be well positioned for a future leadership spot.
Speaking at the National Press Club as news broke that Chaffetz may run, Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said such a move would be a "blessing" for the House and the country.
"I say, 'Go Jason,' " Herbert said.
Chaffetz, who bounced then-Rep. Chris Cannon from office in 2008, previously served as the campaign manager and then chief of staff to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
During his first House term, Chaffetz made a mark as a media-savvy politician and a close ally of Boehner, a position that later helped him earn the coveted chairmanship of the oversight committee.
Matt Canham contributed to this story.