Rep. Raul Labrador Will Challenge Kevin McCarthy for GOP Leader

There will be a race for Eric Cantor’s job afterall.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), speaks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC), on February 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. The CPAC annual gathering is a project of the American Conservative Union. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
June 13, 2014, 9:32 a.m.

Rep. Raul Lab­rador, a fiery con­ser­vat­ive law­maker from Idaho, will chal­lenge House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy in next Thursday’s spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Eric Can­tor as ma­jor­ity lead­er, ac­cord­ing to Re­pub­lic­an sources.

“I want a House Lead­er­ship team that re­flects the best of our con­fer­ence,” Lab­rador said in a state­ment provided to Na­tion­al Journ­al. He later ad­ded: “I am run­ning for Ma­jor­ity Lead­er be­cause I want to help cre­ate a vis­ion of growth and op­por­tun­ity for every­one and start get­ting to work for the Amer­ic­an people.”

A sopho­more rep­res­ent­at­ive from a heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an dis­trict, Lab­rador’s elec­tion would dra­mat­ic­ally al­ter the dy­nam­ic atop the House GOP. The former im­mig­ra­tion at­tor­ney is His­pan­ic and bi­lin­gual, and would add di­versity to an all-white lead­er­ship team. Lab­rador is also a mem­ber of the enorm­ous 2010 class, the mem­bers of which pushed the GOP in­to the ma­jor­ity — but have felt largely un­rep­res­en­ted since.

“I was stunned when Eric Can­tor lost his primary elec­tion earli­er this week,” Lab­rador said. “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.”

Lab­rador, however, enters the race as a de­cided un­der­dog, as Mc­Carthy and his seasoned vote-count­ing op­er­a­tion have been work­ing around the clock since Wed­nes­day se­cur­ing com­mit­ments from mem­bers of the House GOP.

It’s un­clear, in fact, wheth­er Lab­rador ac­tu­ally thinks he can win. As he pondered the race on Thursday even­ing, con­ser­vat­ives who know Lab­rador spec­u­lated that his en­trance would be less about beat­ing Mc­Carthy and more about prov­ing a point. The Idaho Re­pub­lic­an fre­quently cri­ti­cizes the GOP lead­er­ship team — dom­in­ated by mem­bers from blue and purple states — for not rep­res­ent­ing the geo­graph­ic­al or ideo­lo­gic­al com­pos­i­tion of the con­fer­ence. With a power­ful lead­er­ship spot now open, Lab­rador couldn’t bear the idea of Mc­Carthy mov­ing up un­con­tested.

“He thinks some­body needs to step up and at least give con­ser­vat­ives a choice,” said a well-con­nec­ted Wash­ing­ton Re­pub­lic­an who knows Lab­rador well.

With none of the favored con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates jump­ing in — Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Jim Jordan and Tom Price all passed on the lead­er’s race — and Rep. Pete Ses­sions ab­ruptly drop­ping his chal­lenge to Mc­Carthy on Thursday, the va­cu­um was too tempt­ing for Lab­rador to res­ist.

One GOP law­maker who is close with Lab­rador said the Idaho Re­pub­lic­an “can’t stand” Mc­Carthy, and was angered at the no­tion of the ma­jor­ity whip earn­ing a pro­mo­tion by ac­cli­ma­tion. Still, the Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, said Lab­rador har­bors no il­lu­sions that a vic­tory is pos­sible next Thursday.

“Raul isn’t run­ning to win. Raul is run­ning to prove a point,” the mem­ber said.

Still, con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists and out­side groups who spent Thursday be­moan­ing their lack of a can­did­ate were re-en­er­gized by the pro­spect of Lab­rador’s can­did­acy — and won’t let him go down without a fight. The tea party-al­lied group Freedom­Works launched a cam­paign for Lab­rador Fri­day morn­ing — be­fore his de­cision was even fi­nal­ized — and urged act­iv­ists to call their rep­res­ent­at­ives on his be­half.

“Amer­ic­ans de­serve a choice in lead­er­ship, and Re­pub­lic­ans should have learned by now that ‘the next guy in line’ isn’t en­titled to the next rung on the lad­der,” said Freedom­Works pres­id­ent Matt Kibbe. “Raul Lab­rador is the per­fect lead­er­ship choice for con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ser­vat­ives who are ready to shake things up in Con­gress. He has an au­then­t­ic com­mit­ment to re­ject­ing spe­cial in­terests, and de­fend­ing lim­ited gov­ern­ment.”

But Lab­rador may not be­ne­fit much from the sup­port of the power­ful out­side groups. Thursday’s spe­cial elec­tion is secret-bal­lot, de­priving the groups of key-vot­ing the con­test in an at­tempt to hold mem­bers ac­count­able for their choice of lead­er­ship.

Lab­rador owes much of his celebrity to im­mig­ra­tion, his sig­na­ture is­sue, on which he oc­cu­pies a tricky middle ground between the anti-am­nesty wing of his party and those push­ing for a com­pre­hens­ive re­form pack­age. Lab­rador is com­fort­able with the idea of provid­ing leg­al status to some un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, and per­haps even cit­izen­ship — but only after a mus­cu­lar set of “trig­gers” are in place to en­sure the bor­der is se­cured and in­tern­al en­force­ment meas­ures are in place. That way, Lab­rador has said, voters know “we won’t have to deal with this is­sue again.”

Ori­gin­ally part of a bi­par­tis­an House group work­ing to craft an im­mig­ra­tion pack­age, Lab­rador dropped out after the mem­bers could not re­con­cile dif­fer­ing views over health care cov­er­age for cur­rent il­leg­al im­mig­rants.

That will­ing­ness to stand for prin­ciple — even when it makes him an en­emy of power­ful law­makers in his own party — is what im­me­di­ately en­deared Lab­rador to lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives in the House. “He knows what he be­lieves, and he came here and stood firmly for it,” Rep. Jim Jordan, a lead­er of the GOP’s right flank, said of Lab­rador last year. “That car­ries a lot of re­spect.”

Lab­rador has nev­er run for a lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion be­fore, but he did re­ceive a single vote in 2013 for speak­er of the House — from his close friend, Rep. Justin Amash.

Amash im­me­di­ately took to Twit­ter fol­low­ing Lab­rador’s an­nounce­ment, and urged fol­low­ers to keep track of who Re­pub­lic­an rep­res­ent­at­ives will vote for in the elec­tion.

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