Kevin McCarthy’s main responsibility as House majority whip is counting votes. And although he hasn’t always delivered for Republican leadership, Washington pundits appear so confident in his vote-counting operation that many have already anointed him the next majority leader, even though Republicans don’t vote until Thursday.
Just don’t tell Rep. Raúl Labrador, the outspoken sophomore congressman from Idaho who is McCarthy’s sole opponent in a race to succeed Eric Cantor as the No. 2 lawmaker in the House. Labrador returned to Washington from a rocky state convention in his home state over the weekend with a message for his Republican colleagues: “Americans are looking for a change in the status quo.”
“I am not running against anyone, but for everyone,” Labrador wrote to his Republican colleagues yesterday.
Labrador’s decision to run came after two higher-ranking Republican—Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Texas—pulled out, leaving McCarthy unchallenged. Labrador, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Las Vegas, declared his candidacy last Friday.
Although the race to succeed McCarthy as whip has generated more attention—that three-way contest could take multiple ballots to settle—Labrador has tapped into Americans’ frustration with the Washington establishment to stir excitement. FreedomWorks, an organization made up of grassroots activists, is one of Labrador’s biggest boosters.
Labrador knows grassroots enthusiasm will carry him only so far. He needs to make the case that change is needed to the 233 House Republicans who will vote by secret ballot Thursday for their next leader. Labrador’s letter to colleagues Monday indicated carried this message. Here’s what he wrote:
I am writing today to humbly ask for your vote for majority leader.
Like all of you, I was stunned when Eric Cantor lost his primary election. Eric is my friend and I have tremendous respect for him. But the message from last week is clear—Americans are looking for a change in the status quo.
In the immediate aftermath of Eric’s announcement, Kevin and the whip team moved quickly to line up support for his candidacy, which is to their credit. But given the extraordinary circumstances that triggered this election—and the related, ongoing divisions within our party—this race needed another voice.
Promoting, by acclamation, a member of the very Washington leadership that has failed to bridge the divide with Republicans outside Washington struck me as exactly the wrong response. And so, I have decided to stand for majority leader—running not against anyone, but for everyone.
The simple fact is, Republicans will never again unite the country until we first unite our party.
Some might question whether an outspoken conservative from the class of 2010 could bring us together. But I believe I am uniquely qualified to do just that. Our conference has the talent, the energy and the ideas equal to the challenges of these anxious times. What we lack is a positive, innovative reform agenda and the courage to implement it.
Throughout America, there is a growing sense that the American dream is slipping away and that our leaders in Washington aren’t up to the challenge of preserving it.
I have lived the American dream. I was raised by a single mother in Puerto Rico and lived there until the age of 13 when we moved to Las Vegas. She worked many different jobs to make ends meet. And while times were tough, she never complained and she never envied other people’s success. Instead, she encouraged me to dream big. She always reminded me that if I studied, worked hard, and did right by others, I could live the American dream. She was right! And today, I believe our chief responsibility as House Republicans is to preserve that dream for America’s children and grandchildren.
I know some people made commitments before I entered the race, but the most important commitments we make are to the American people we represent. So I am hopeful you will at least pause for a moment and consider me for this role.
In the coming days, I will be in touch with each of you personally to ask for your support. Win or lose, I am committed to working with you to make sure our conference is as outstanding as the members it represents.