Rep. Cliff Rosenberger was still four months shy of being born when Rep. Ron Amstutz joined the state legislature in 1981.

Rep. Cliff Rosenberger was still four months shy of being born when Rep. Ron Amstutz joined the state legislature in 1981.

Thirty-two years later, the upstart and the veteran are squaring off to become the next speaker of the House.

Rosenberger, 32, and Amstutz, 62, have emerged — at least at the moment — as the top candidates to replace Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, when he must depart the House because of term limits at the end of 2014.

A formal leadership vote is more than 15 months away, and things could change. GOP Reps. Jim Butler of Oakwood, Louis Terhar of Cincinnati and Kristina Roegner of Hudson, for example, are among those mentioned as showing interest in the top job.

“I’m trying to get this thing settled down, if possible, very soon so we can get back to the policy work that is so critical,” Amstutz said. “If we spend too much time with intramural discussions, that can diffuse our focus.”

Amstutz is considered one of the strongest House GOP legislators when it comes to policy — he’s regularly described as a wonk. He has been chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee since 2011. Trailing only Batchelder in legislative experience, the Wooster resident has avoided term limits by switching from the House to the Senate and back to the House.

Rosenberger, of Clarksville, was elected to the House in 2010 after serving in the Air Force and working for President George W. Bush’s administration, first in the Office of Political Affairs and later as a special assistant to the U.S. secretary of the interior. He also was political-events coordinator for Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. Rosenberger did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Amstutz said he sees “most, if not all of the efforts,” of others running for speaker as attempts to be part of the caucus leadership team. “They can’t say they aren’t running for speaker, but the truth is, probably they are hoping to be well-positioned to get a good leadership spot, and we should try to help them with that,” he said.

The right way to do that, Amstutz said, is for members to get involved in important policy and campaign work. “The members who aspire to future leadership positions — the work that they do should help clarify who should be doing what.”

Rosenberger was initially on the team backing Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, for speaker. But Buchy recently decided to back out of the race, reportedly due to health issues, and is throwing his support behind Rosenberger.

“Cliff has unbelievable leadership assets,” Buchy said. “He’s a very good listener. He’ll be an independent leader for the caucus. In the three years I’ve observed him since I returned to the House, he’s a very confident man that possesses all the attributes to be a terrific speaker.”

Months ago, Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, was considered a top contender, but he and his key backers now appear to be behind Amstutz.

“He is outstanding on policy and understands the history of how we’ve gotten to where we are,” Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, said of Amstutz. “I think he’s done a wonderful job leading the Finance Committee and working through some very difficult issues.”

Rosenberger can serve two more terms in the House, and Amstutz can serve one. Republicans control the House 60-39 and are in no danger of losing their majority in 2014, thanks in no small part to a major fundraising advantage and gerrymandered legislative districts.