House Republicans will pick a new conference chairman this week, and the outcome of the contest between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia could indicate the direction the party wants to take.
Their political profiles provide a study in contrasts. Price, for instance, tied for most conservative House member in National Journal's 2011 vote ratings while McMorris Rodgers ranked 117. Price has won the backing of some conservative standard-bearers, while McMorris Rodgers's supporters point to her "unique perspective" as the only woman currently serving in House GOP leadership -- she's the conference's vice chair.
"Let’s not go wobbly. We know our ideas work. We know Tom Price knows our ideas work," Red State's Erick Erickson wrote in his Price endorsement.
Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Mike Pence of Indiana, two previous Republican Study Committee chairmen, also endorsed Price.
“Congressman Price is committed — both as a member of leadership and as a voice for House Republicans — to help lead that effort, and we enthusiastically endorse his candidacy," they wrote in a letter, according to Politico.
Lawmakers who back McMorris Rodgers, on the other hand, acknowledge a course adjustment is necessary but are reluctant to go as far as to suggest that the party move toward the center after last week's GOP thumping.
"I like the line she used [on CNN], which ran something like, 'We don't have to moderate but we do have to modernize,'" GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told the Alley.
Her backers also balk at the idea that McMorris Rodgers isn't conservative enough to lead. To back that claim, her aides point to other vote ratings, like the Chamber of Commerce's, which gives her a lifetime score four points greater than Price's. After a successful stint as the vice chair, she's earned the chairmanship, they say, and the fact that she's the only woman in GOP House leadership is not lost on them.
"I think Cathy is a great leader who brings a unique a perspective as a wife and a mother and a working mother. And I think that she also, it seems to me, is the natural choice because she's already the vice chair," Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., told the Alley.
Price also has leadership experience to point to. As the current Republican Policy Committee chair, he cast himself as a "principled" Republican in a video announcing his candidacy last week. The video includes clips of Price, a medical doctor, criticizing the Affordable Care Act. He seemed to be shoring up his conservative credentials this weekend when he differed with House Speaker John Boehner's assessment that President Obama's reelection changed the prospect of repealing the law.
"We're opposed [to the law] because it is bad policy and it's bad for patients across this land," Price said on Fox News Sunday.
Asked to comment on the race, Price's office said the contest should be left to members to sort out.
"As Chairman Price has always said, he believes this decision should be made through discussion and consultation with his colleagues, not through the press," Price's press secretary Ellen Carmichael said in an email.