- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

Campaign season isn’t over for everyone on Capitol Hill, as House Republicans — fresh off their historic takeover of the chamber in Tuesday’s midterm elections — now turn their attention to electing leaders within their caucus.

The top two spots likely will go without challenge, with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio in line to be speaker and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia the new House majority leader.

But beyond those two spots, intraparty battles already are brewing for positions of influence in the House GOP hierarchy.

In one already-declared battle of conservative heavyweights, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a favorite of the “tea party” movement, are vying for the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, the primary forum for communicating the party’s message to its members. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence announced this week he was stepping down from the leadership post.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy is the front-runner for majority whip - considered the No. 3 post in the hierarchy — after announcing his candidacy Wednesday. The Californian, who serves as vice chairman of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the fundraising and recruiting arm of House Republicans, says he would lead with “conservative principles to advance job-creating policies, cut spending and reform Washington.”

“Americans have rejected the toxic policies of the Pelosi Majority, and have now entrusted Republicans with the responsibility of recharting the direction of our nation,” Mr. McCarthy said in a Wednesday letter to his House GOP colleagues. “If we fail in this effort, we will find ourselves in the Minority once again, unworthy of redemption.”

Among House Republicans, there is speculation that NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, who helped orchestrate Tuesday’s landslide midterm House election victories for the GOP, may challenge Mr. McCarthy for whip.

A Sessions spokeswoman said the Texas lawmaker likely will announce his leadership plans Friday morning.

Jockeying for leadership positions isn’t limited to the GOP, as Capitol Hill eyes also are focused on outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat has not announced her plans or signaled what shake-ups, if any, will take place within the Democratic leadership.

A number of House Democrats on the campaign trail pledged not to vote for Mrs. Pelosi as speaker in the new Congress. Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina said he was weighing a run as minority leader if Mrs. Pelosi tries to keep her post as head of the diminished Democratic caucus.

In the Senate, Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, and Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, top deputies to and potential rivals with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, moved quickly to squelch similar talk in the upper chamber. They told reporters Wednesday that they will support the Mr. Reid, who was re-elected in Nevada, in his quest to retain the chamber’s top Democratic spot.

The potential Hensarling-Bachmann contest could be among the Hill’s most spirited contests.

Mr. Hensarling, who was elected to a fifth term in the House, is considered the favorite and has the endorsement of outgoing chairman Mr. Pence, Mr. Cantor and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who is considered a rising star among House Republicans.

“Jeb’s economic expertise and strong ability to communicate are what we need in our conference chairman to articulate our unified commitment to get our country back on track,” Mr. Ryan said in an e-mail to House GOP members.

But in a year of strong voter anti-Washington sentiment, Mr. Hensarling has downplayed talk that he is the party establishment’s choice. His office sent reporters comments from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s Thursday appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in which he declared that Mr. Hensarling “is not an establishment guy.”

Mrs. Bachmann, a vocal critic of the Obama administration and a founder of the House’s Tea Party Caucus, said her conservative credentials are well suited to helping lead a House GOP conference that has swung to the political right.

“I think it’s important that leadership takes into account the mandates that the American people put out on Election Day and that is it wasn’t establishment Republicans that won, it was constitutional conservatives, and it is important that they have a clear and loud voice at the leadership table,” said Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor.

Mrs. Bachmann’s high profile and staunch conservative positions could make her a favorite with many incoming Republican freshmen who share her views.

“For those 80 freshmen, a lot of them know exactly who Michele Bachmann is but don’t yet know who Jeb Hensarling is,” said a House Republican aide. “Everybody assumes Hensarling is going to win, and if I had to bet I’d put my money on Hensarling. But with that variable of 80 freshmen, if three-quarters of them vote for Bachmann, suddenly you’ve got a pretty close contest.”

Mr. Pence vacated the conference chairmanship post Wednesday to concentrate on bigger political ambitions. The lawmaker from Indiana has been whispered to be considering a run for president in 2012.

The race for chairmanship of the House Republican Policy Committee, sometimes referred to as the House GOP’s think tank, already has attracted the interest of Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Connie Mack of Florida. The current head of the panel, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, is expected to announce that he will step down.

Mr. Price on Thursday picked up a key endorsement with the backing of Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Mack said the policy committee “has a unique opportunity to cultivate conservative ideas that will move our nation forward.”

“By bringing together various perspectives and allowing ideas to flourish, we can harness the energy of our country and our conference to enact thoughtful ideas that get back to our nation’s founding principles,” he said.

The House Republican Study Committee (RSC), a coalition of more than 100 conservatives, will be up for grabs if its chairman, Mr. Price, is successful in his bid. And with about 80 GOP freshmen arriving on Capitol Hill in January, the committee’s ranks are expected to swell in numbers, money and influence.

Some have speculated that the study committee’s top spot could be awarded to a loser in one of the other leadership positions, particularly the race for conference chairmanship.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if whoever loses the Hensarling-Bachmann contest for conference chairman is then elected RSC chairman, almost as a consolation prize,” said the House Republican aide. “But if you’re Hensarling or Bachmann, you can’t simultaneously run for two things — that’s just unseemly.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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