Bachmann's interest in House leadership post could create tension for GOP

Americans cast their ballots Tuesday in House, Senate and statewide races.
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 2:44 PM

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the conservative firebrand who founded the congressional Tea Party Caucus, is planning to run for a House leadership post, potentially setting up the first major clash between the Republican Party's top leaders in Washington and the tea party movement that helped power GOP victories on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Bachmann said she will seek the title of Republican conference chairman, the No. 4 post in the House, which Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) announced Wednesday he is vacating as he considers a run for Indiana governor or president. But Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who as the minority whip is the No. 2 leader, endorsed Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) for the slot earlier Wednesday.

Hensarling, though one of the most conservative members of the House, is not as closely associated with the tea party as Bachmann. The conference chairman coordinates the party's public message, holding news conferences and arranging members' appearances on national television.

The elections for leadership posts will take place when Congress returns in two weeks. The top slots are not expected to be contested, as Cantor and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) are expected to become majority leader and speaker, respectively, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is likely to take the No. 3 spot of majority whip.

The challenge by Bachmann could create a complicated situation for party leaders. The Minnesota congresswoman, first elected in 2006, has emerged as leader among Republicans on Capitol Hill outside of the party's leadership structure, personally organizing some of the rallies on the Mall before the divisive health-care vote. Aided by her constant appearances on Fox News, Bachmann raised more money than any other House candidate - her $11 million topped even Boehner's total.

At the same time, Cantor's embrace of Hensarling, which happened before Bachmann's candidacy emerged, suggests party leaders would prefer a less polarizing figure as one of the House Republicans' leading voices.

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