Can Conservative Groundswell Give Labrador a Chance in Majority Leader Race?

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), never one to shy away from a battle with the leaders of his Republican Party, has decided he does have a dog in the fight to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as House majority leader.

Amash is backing Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) against the GOP establishment’s candidate, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the majority whip of the House.

McCarthy is seen as having a virtual lock on the majority leader position. Others who were rumored to want the job gracefully drifted to the sidelines. Out of nowhere came Labrador.

Pundits by the bushel are saying he doesn’t have a chance.

But then again, didn’t Cantor think he had a 40-point advantage going into the June 10 Virginia Republican primary before being rocketed into retirement by upstart economics professor David Brat?

“Washington Republicans can bury what happened last Tuesday with piles of excuses. But if they view Tuesday as an anomaly, they do so at their own peril,” said Amash. “Ordinary Americans are frustrated that their representatives aren’t listening to them. They desperately want Republican leadership they can identify with, that speaks to their beliefs, and that will forcefully make our case going into the next term.”

Labrador, like Amash, was part of the 2010 class of Republican newcomers who were carried into Congress on the shoulders of voters who supported the tea party and libertarian-leaners who promised to bring sweeping change to Congress.

Labrador, echoing Amash — or maybe it’s the other way around — says the time for that change is finally here. He wants a seat at the table.

“I was stunned when Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this week. Eric is a good friend and I have tremendous respect for him. But the message from Tuesday is clear – Americans are looking for a change in the status quo,” said Labrador.

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote on RedState Friday shortly after Labrador issued his challenge announcement that it is time for conservatives to stand up against House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and others like him.

“Give them no room to pose,” wrote Erickson. “Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) and Labrador are proving their worth as conservative leaders in the House and conservatives need to get in the trenches to support them.” Stutzman is waging a longshot campaign for whip.

Amash took it on the chin shortly after winning election when he and other young Republicans launched a bid to outset Boehner. Amash was removed from his committee assignments as punishment.

He might have been bruised. But Amash is ready to fight again.

“We can’t respond to a stunning loss by giving a pat on the back and promotion to the same team,” Amash said. “It’s time for someone new, someone conservative, someone who will put forward a fresh agenda, and someone we know is a proven and talented spokesman. That man is Raúl Labrador.”

“The majority leader’s main job is to set the agenda for House Republicans. We must have a solid conservative set that agenda, or we’ll risk being out of step with our constituents,” said Amash.

Labrador wasted no time June 13 in laying out that new agenda, preparing to take the Republican Party where many have hesitated to go. House leadership elections are Thursday.

“Republicans need to address the growing challenges of immobility amongst the poor, insecurity in the middle class and stop protecting the special interests at the top. We must ensure every American has an equal opportunity to succeed, that they are treated fairly not only by the laws we pass in Congress, but by our political system,” he said.

“We must restore the proper role of government to create space for free markets and civil society to prosper and flourish.”

Stutzman faces Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) in the race to fill McCarthy’s post.

“I want a House leadership team that reflects the best of our conference. A leadership team that can bring the Republican conference together,” said Labrador. “A leadership team that can help unite and grow our party. Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening and now is the time to change that.”

How likely is it that the Labrador-Stutzman team will win the day and pull up two chairs to the grown-ups table at Thanksgiving? Not very, congressional analysts say.

Labrador is drawing some high-profile names on the right in support of his quest, though, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

"I think Labrador would be a great leader," Paul said at the congressman’s side Friday at the Idaho Republican Convention.

But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Labrador is too “pro-amnesty” to qualify as a conservative majority leader.

“Wanted: Applicants for Majority Leader in US House who have a record opposing amnesty. Come see me,” King tweeted Wednesday as McCarthy rapidly shored up his support.

Then, on Friday as the Idaho congressman jumped into the running: “Labrador is pro amnesty. If not this year, he has strongly advocated for amnesty next year. No fair trying to redefine amnesty.”

Labrador was part of the “Group of Eight” House immigration negotiators, but left in June 2013 after a disagreement over who would be responsible for the healthcare costs of illegal immigrants.

“I will not abandon my efforts to modernize our broken immigration system by securing our borders and creating a workable guest worker program,” Labrador said at the time.

“Wanted: Applicants for Majority Leader, US House who have record opposing amnesty. Come see me. 2nd Request. No qualified applicants, yet,” King tweeted Friday.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said this morning on Fox that that the short campaign period before the House leadership election favors McCarthy.

“But that doesn't mean that the conservative wing, the Tea Party group within the House of Representatives has lost any of its muster at all. Remember, who supports the Tea Party? It's folks who are interested in limited government, in lower taxes, in greater fiscal responsibility, in individual liberty,” Price said.

“We need to make certain that smart politics doesn't replace losing those principles, and losing those principles doesn't mean that you can't gain gains step by step by step. So that I believe incorporates all of the House Republican conference. So I think the division that has been cited is exaggerated.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said McCarthy should win his post “in a pretty solid way,” but he and Labrador “have to fight it out.”

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