- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2008

The jockeying for top Republican Party slots has taken off.

Conservative California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren Friday said he would challenge embattled House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio for the minority’s top leadership post.

The late move, with House Republicans meeting to select their leaders Wednesday, came after former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele formally entered the race to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Lungren and Mr. Steele both said the party’s mounting losses raise questions about its leadership.

“Most Americans today see a Republican Party that defines itself by what it is against rather than what it is for,” Mr. Steele said in announcing his candidacy late Thursday in Miami, where the Republican Governors Association was meeting.

“We can tell you why public schools aren’t working but not articulate a compelling vision for how we’ll better educate children. We’re well equipped to rail against tax increases but can’t begin to explain how we’ll help the poor.”

Mr. Lungren, a former California state attorney general, hopes to capitalize on dissatisfaction in the Republican ranks after major losses in the last two elections that have cost the party control of the House and left it with just 176 seats in the 435-seat chamber in the incoming Congress.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Friday, Mr. Lungren praised Mr. Boehner but said giving him a new term as minority leader would send the wrong signal given the Nov. 4 election.

“I am embarking on this effort because I think our party is in trouble,” he wrote. Republicans “run the risk of becoming a permanent congressional minority.”

Mr. Boehner, who has served in the House since 1990, defeated a challenge from conservative Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana in 2006. But the current congressional session has been rocky, with Mr. Boehner lobbying hard for the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package this fall that many of his colleagues bitterly opposed.

Mr. Boehner’s top deputies, Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri and Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam of Florida, have already announced plans to step down.

In his own statement, Mr. Boehner took the high road.

Dan Lungren is a respected member of our conference and a man deeply committed to the principles that have defined our party since the beginning,” he said.

Mr. Lungren, 62, has served a decade in the House, representing an area around Sacramento before leaving in 1988 to run for California attorney general. After an unsuccessful run for governor against Democrat Gray Davis in 1998, he won back his seat in the state’s 3rd District in 2004.

In 2006, he lost a four-way contest for conference chairman to Mr. Putnam.

On the RNC front, Mr. Steele joined several candidates publicly and privately trying to unseat Mike Duncan, whose term expires in January.

“The Republican Party must present a vision for the future of America that relies on our conservative values and core principles,” said Mr. Steele, Maryland’s first black official elected statewide.

The former leader of Maryland’s Republican Party is chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee. Others interested in the RNC post, which Mr. Duncan is fighting to keep, are state party leaders such as Saul Anuzis of Michigan and Jim Greer of Florida. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia also is interested.

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