Barely a week after the end of the 2012 presidential race, another heated campaign is about to come to a head as two top Republicans do battle Wednesday in the race for House GOP Conference chairman — and former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan has taken a position that could put him at odds with some members of his own party leadership.
Ryan is backing Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), 58, over Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) in the open-seat race for the fourth-ranking spot in the House GOP leadership. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), current GOP conference chairman, is expected to vacate the position to become chairman of the Financial Services Committee.
Ryan, who first pledged to back Price over the summer, reiterated his support in a letter Tuesday to fellow House Republicans in which he called the Georgia Republican “uniquely qualified for the job of Conference Chairman.”
“He was instrumental in drafting our House Republican budget,” Ryan wrote of Price. “His vocal leadership on issues like health care, tax reform, and fiscal matters has been vital to our messaging and policy efforts.”
McMorris Rodgers, 43, holds the No. 5 spot in GOP leadership and is viewed as the establishment favorite in the race. While party leaders are formally not taking sides, she enjoys the public support of seven top committee chairmen and has been a loyal ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
She is the highest-ranking woman in House Republican leadership and, if she loses the race, the party could find itself with an all-male leadership team at a time when some have voiced concern about the GOP’s ability to woo female voters, particularly in the wake of Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney’s double-digit loss last week to President Obama among women.
Price, meanwhile, is seen as the darling of the party’s most conservative members. He is former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus of which McMorris Rodgers is also a member, and has received the backing of Hensarling and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), another influential conservative who has at times butted heads with party leadership.
Some House GOP aides said they view McMorris Rodgers as favored to come out on top in Wednesday’s vote. But the move by Ryan, the highest-profile House Republican to take sides in the race, could mix things up. Further complicating the intraparty battle is the fact that McMorris Rodgers was tapped by Ryan’s running mate, Romney, to serve as the GOP ticket’s congressional liaison over the summer.
“The fact that Paul Ryan endorsed Price in July — before he became part of the ticket — is a big explanation for how this has all played out,” said one GOP aide who spoke anonymously in order to discuss internal party politics. “I think that if he had known in July that he would’ve been the vice-presidential nominee, he might’ve done things differently.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday that “the speaker is remaining completely neutral in all of the leadership races.”
Below is the text of the “Dear Colleague” letter sent by Ryan on Tuesday:
Dear Colleague –
Having crisscrossed the country over the last several months, I have seen firsthand the challenges we as a nation face. I have also seen the incredible spirit of the American people who are hungry for real leadership and ready to do what is necessary to put America back on a more prosperous path.
In the House of Representatives, we have an obligation and a real opportunity to produce and promote a positive and principled agenda for the American people. Over the past two years, we have offered bold solutions to our fiscal and economic challenges. We must not let up, but rather continue to focus our energy on doing what is necessary to empower individuals, families, and entrepreneurs.
Key to ensuring the success of our efforts will be having proven leaders at the helm of our policy and communication strategies. That is why I am asking you to join me in supporting Congressman Tom Price to be our next Chairman of the House Republican Conference.
I have had the privilege of working with Congressman Price on a myriad of different issues over the years, and I know he is uniquely qualified for the job of Conference Chairman. He was instrumental in drafting our House Republican budget. His vocal leadership on issues like health care, tax reform, and fiscal matters has been vital to our messaging and policy efforts.
No one will work harder than Congressman Price at building a strong and compelling communications and policy strategy that reflects the will of our membership and the needs of the nation.
Chairman, House Committee on the Budget