BOISE – Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador announced Friday that he’s running for U.S. House majority leader, a big leap for the second-term tea-party favorite.
Though his bid to take on popular GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for the post was immediately labeled a “long shot” by the media and pundits in Washington, D.C., Labrador told reporters in Boise, “I think I’ve had some experiences with heavy favorites before.”
Labrador was the underdog when he first ran for Congress, with his GOP primary opponent, Iraq veteran Vaughn Ward, backed by party leaders and expected to win; instead, Labrador won the primary and defeated then-Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. He’s since made a national splash with his conservative stands, his Puerto Rican heritage, his immigration reform proposals and his open opposition to sitting GOP leadership in the House.
“I went to Washington, D.C. to make a difference,” Labrador said. He said a colleague told him “90 percent of us feel like we don’t make a difference here in Washington,” because party leaders make all the decisions.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers took her name out of the running for the position, which will be decided in a closed meeting next week, on Wednesday. She is the fourth-ranking Republican in the House.
McCarthy is seen as the heir apparent to the post after the stunning defeat of current Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia Republican primary by a little-known, under-financed tea party challenger; McCarthy holds the leadership post just below majority leader.
Labrador said of McCarthy, “He’s a very friendly guy, he’s a very good guy, everybody likes him. But what we need is somebody who can actually articulate a vision for America and for the future of America, somebody that can grow the Republican Party, can get people to actually want to be Republicans again and to move this country forward.”
Labrador, 46, said his vision of the party is that “we as Republicans believe in the little people. We are not the party of big special interests, we are not the party of big business. We are the party that believes that if you work hard, if you play by the rules, if the government gets out of your way, that you can be successful and you can achieve the American dream.”
Labrador’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, decried the move as more evidence of Labrador’s “hobby of partisan in-fighting” instead of cooperation.
She said, “I have to admire Congressman Labrador’s consistency. First, he tried to divide Idaho Republicans by backing Russ Fulcher against Gov. (Butch) Otter and opposing Mike Simpson in his primary. Now he’s trying to divide his party in Washington by running for a post he has no chance of winning and no business holding.”
Labrador actually was neutral in the 2nd District congressional primary race, declining to endorse either candidate in Simpson’s challenge from tea party candidate Bryan Smith, but he made a high-profile endorsement of Fulcher over Otter and campaigned with Fulcher in the final stretch before the May 20 primary election, which Otter won.
The Idaho congressman said he’d spent the last three days trying to convince two other members of Congress, Jim Morgan of Ohio and and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, to run for majority leader, but when they wouldn’t, he decided to do it. “The reality is that there is a large segment of our conference that wants change,” he said. “I consider myself the conservative alternative.”
Labrador spoke briefly with reporters in Boise as he and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul stopped off on their way to the Idaho GOP convention in Moscow, where Paul was scheduled to give the keynote address Friday night. Asked if he thought Labrador has a chance at winning the majority leader post, Paul said, “There really is a question what is the message that’s sent when the voters replace someone in leadership. They want someone different. I think Raul brings that.”
Labrador is chairing the state GOP convention, where a deep split between establishment Republicans and the tea party wing has resulted in nasty rules fights; on Friday afternoon, the party’s credentials committee voted to bar the entire delegations from Ada, Bannock and Power counties – which would remove more than a sixth of the delegates from voting on the party platform and state chairman.
Some in the party are calling on Labrador to be the healer and find a way to unite the party’s two wings, though he’s closely allied with the tea party wing. The full convention, under Labrador’s leadership, could accept or reject the committee’s ruling.