As a congressional staffer, John Stone got a firsthand look at how House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team operate. His boss was one of its members.
Yet now, as he vies for a seat of his own in a crowded Georgia primary, Stone is running on a promise to oust those very same leaders — not just Boehner, but the whole team.
"When I got here in the district "¦ what I kept hearing is, we've got to change the party leadership," Stone said. "We need to end the GOP's civil war between the establishment and the conservative base, and get everybody into the same tent."
While anti-incumbent sentiment has played a strong role in many elections, running specifically against House Republican leaders — including Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and the rest — is novel. Moreover, Stone is not the only one.
The Republican Trust Political Action Committee credits Stone, 58, as the first candidate in the nation to sign the organization's pledge to vote for an all-new House GOP leadership team. But it also says candidates in Georgia, Arkansas, and North Carolina have done the same.
How this plays out in their races — let alone if they get elected — is anybody's guess. But Stone is going to find out soon, with early voting starting Monday in Georgia's 12th District and the primary coming May 20.
Stone is an odd test case. As a former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, who was secretary of the House Republican Conference from 2007 until Rep. Virginia Foxx took over the post in 2013, Stone worked for a member of House leadership. He left Carter's office last year to make his second run for the seat.
Yet, Stone says he does not regard his campaign promise to help bounce GOP leaders as traitorous or politically dangerous. Instead, he brags about it in press releases and ads as he campaigns against fellow Republicans Rick Allen, Eugene Yu, Delvis Dutton, and Diane Vann. The victor will face Democrat John Barrow in the general election.
As Stone tells it, it is time to put new blood in place that can heal divisions and "reunite us behind a common, innovative, and reenergized conservative agenda for America." In short, he says, it's not personal.
"I love every one of them to death," he said of the current GOP leadership team.
Not all those who took the pledge feel the same. For instance, Brian Slowinski, who is running in a five-way Republican primary in Georgia's open 10th District, proudly calls himself the second candidate in the nation to sign the Trust's pledge. "We need to Fire Boehner and throw the rest of the Bums out!" Slowinski says on his website.
Of course, the notion of conservative angst over Boehner's leaderhip is nothing new. Frustrated House conservatives have been actively scheming to penetrate the top ranks of the House, perhaps even by trying to force Boehner to step aside.
Some incumbent House conservatives, like New Mexico's Steve Pearce, even vocally remind audiences that they oppose Boehner, and voted against him for speaker in early 2013. "Probably the most popular vote I've made in the district," he told National Journal.
But how widespread the discontent is, and whether it can translate into action, is still unclear. It is even less clear whether attacks on House leadership will resonate with voters.
The Trust's executive director, Scott Wheeler, calls Stone "courageous," and his group claims the pledge is the right move in his district, pointing to internal polling the organization has conducted.
Republican campaign strategists are thus far mute on the topic. "We have no play in primaries whatsoever," said Katie Prill, a regional spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
As for Stone, he was not expecting any campaign help from Washington. And he's candid about what happens if he does get elected — only to find that Boehner and his team are afterward able to stay in power by winning their internal GOP leadership elections for the new session.
"I guess then we'll have to smooth over the waters," he said, "and find some way to work together."