Labrador jumps into race for House majority leader

Friday, June 13, 2014 - 5:56pm

Conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho announced Friday he will campaign to become House majority leader, a position soon to be vacated by outgoing Rep. Eric Cantor.

"I want a House Leadership team that reflects the best of our conference," Labrador said in a statement. "Americans don't believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that."

Labrador, a two-term congressman who was elected with wide tea party support in 2010, will face off against GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, setting the scene for a conservative vs. establishment showdown for next week's leadership election.

The sudden power shift comes after Cantor, the second most powerful Republican in the House, suffered a major primary loss in his Virginia district on Tuesday.

Labrador is largely considered a long-shot for the job. House Republicans will vote Thursday, leaving little time for Labrador to organize a solid campaign. His bid may simply amount to a protest vote on behalf of the far-right conservative faction in the House, which didn't move quickly enough to mount a serious challenge against McCarthy.

Labrador is in Idaho this weekend to lead his state's GOP convention. One ally of McCarthy took a jab at Labrador's campaign rollout.

"You don't launch a bid on a Friday afternoon with no one in town with less than a week before the vote," the source said.

In contrast, McCarthy began reaching out to GOP colleagues soon after Cantor lost, and as the whip, he already had a group of lieutenants in place to begin securing commitments from members.

While announcing Wednesday that he would step down from the leadership position on July 31, Cantor said he would back McCarthy if the four-term congressman decided to run for his job.

"I can tell you that if my dear friend and colleague Kevin McCarthy does decide to run, I think he'd make an outstanding majority leader and I will be backing him with my full support," he said.

Outside conservative groups who view McCarthy as too moderate have been urging someone to challenge him from the right. Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling briefly considered a run but decided he didn't want to spend the time away from his family that would be required in a leadership job. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was also urged to run.

For his part, Labrador has been a perpetual critic of the GOP leadership. He didn't vote for Boehner for speaker in January 2013 and regularly says he doesn't believe Boehner will run again.

After Labrador's announcement, the conservative group FreedomWorks quickly released a statement of support.

"Americans deserve a choice in leadership, and thanks to Raúl Labrador, Republicans don't have to settle for the 'next guy in line,'" the group's president, Matt Kibbe, said. "Unlike Kevin McCarthy, Labrador is ready to make good policy and fiscal responsibility a priority in the House."

While conservative groups may back Labrador, they don't get a vote, and internal leadership votes are more about personal relationships than outside influences.

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