Rep. Jim McCrery’s (R-La.) announcement late last week that he will not seek re-election in 2008 immediately touched off a yearlong race for one of the most powerful posts in Congress — the top Republican slot on the Ways and Means Committee.
Early jockeying points to at least a two-person race between Reps. Wally Herger (Calif.) and Dave Camp (Mich.), with the possibility of a three-man contest emerging.
While Herger is next on the tax-writing panel’s GOP roster, Camp has been a close ally of Republican leaders and is widely viewed as having the inside track to succeed McCrery.
Still, Herger released a statement Monday asserting that he plans to fight for the job, which will ultimately be determined by a vote of the GOP Steering Committee next November.
“As the most senior Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee, I intend to run to succeed Jim and have already informed leadership of my intention to do so,” Herger said. “I hope and intend to lead the Republicans on the committee next year — hopefully as their chairman.”
Herger was not a candidate for the top Republican slot on Ways and Means two years ago, when it was last open, even though he had more seniority than McCrery at the time.
Camp, meanwhile, also has jumped in the race and already has begun making calls to Members.
“Yes, he’s going to seek the position,” Camp spokesman Sage Eastman said. “He is reaching out to other Members and has had a lot of positive feedback.”
Camp, in his ninth term in the House, is currently the ranking member on the Health Subcommittee and played a leading role in the recent debate over children’s health care legislation. Herger, an 11-term Member, is the ranking member of the Trade Subcommittee.
Republicans both on Capitol Hill and on K Street said Monday that early handicapping showed Camp with an edge, citing his strong ties to leadership and his fundraising prowess.
“It is Camp’s to lose,” said one Republican member of the committee, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “My sense is that the leadership would be predisposed toward Dave.”
“The guy to beat is Camp,” added one GOP lobbyist.
A possible dark-horse candidate in the race could be Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), who will be fourth in seniority on the panel next Congress. English released a statement praising McCrery, but a spokeswoman for the Congressman said it was premature to talk about any possible interest he might have in the ranking member slot.
“Jim’s energy and policy vision have been one of the unifying forces among the Republican Ways and Means members, and his departure will leave big shoes to fill,” English said in his statement.
English, however, would face several obstacles if he enters the race. The seven-term Republican represents a marginal district and faces a potentially competitive re-election race next year. Sources said those two factors would likely handicap his bid if he were to make one because as ranking member he would be expected to take hard-line party positions that could put him in jeopardy with voters back home.
Both Herger and Camp are from more solidly Republican districts and have not had competitive re-election contests.
Another name being floated as a possible contender among some Republicans on Monday was that of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is much more junior on the committee.
Ryan, currently the ranking member on the Budget Committee, is a darling of fiscal conservatives and would likely have strong backing from that wing of the party if he were to toss his name into the race. Still, the 37-year-old Congressman will be ninth in seniority among Republicans on the panel next cycle, and the leap to ranking member would be a long one.
A spokeswoman for Ryan said her boss was out of reach in Wisconsin on Monday and therefore was unable to comment on any possible interest in the race.
McCrery announced late Friday that he would not seek a 12th term in the House next year, citing his desire to spend more time with his family and his disappointment that the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 had denied him the Ways and Means chairmanship.
“The chairmanship would have allowed me to play a leading role in addressing some of the biggest long-term problems facing our country,” McCrery said in a statement.
He added: “Given that disappointment and my desire to more fully enjoy the last few years my boys will be at home, I will not seek re-election to the Congress in 2008.”
McCrery becomes the 17th House Republican to announce plans to retire or seek higher office next year. His Shreveport-based district tilts decidedly toward Republicans and the party is not expected to have trouble holding it (See story, p. 1).
Still, privately Republicans acknowledged that it is not helpful for the party’s morale to have the ranking member on the powerful tax-writing committee depart from the House just two years into his term. But at the same time, they said his departure was not all that unexpected.
“You can’t put a positive spin on it,” the Republican Member said, while also noting that McCrery’s desire to leave goes back further than the current Congress.
McCrery eyed retiring in 2004 — citing the desire to spend more time with his family — only to be pressured by GOP leaders to stay.
Unlike with other open seats, McCrery’s departure could actually provide a financial boost for the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee.
Aside from seniority, one of the key factors in determining committee chairmen and ranking members has been fundraising. As the Ways and Means race heats up, it is likely the contenders’ fundraising and aid to Republican candidates will pick up as well.
Between Camp and Herger, Camp has a demonstrated advantage when it comes to raising funds for the party.
In the previous cycle, he doled out more than $200,000 to Republican candidates and causes through his leadership political action committee — Continuing A Majority Party PAC. In 2003, he was the lead House fundraiser for the President’s Dinner, an annual joint House/Senate event.
Camp also has raised more money for his own re-election, taking in $1.2 million in the previous cycle. Herger raised just $670,000 for his re-election race in 2006, and he shut down his federal PAC in 2002.
The dynamic between the contenders could echo the 2004 race for Appropriations chairman between GOP Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), Hal Rogers (Ky.) and Ralph Regula (Ohio). In that case, the three lawmakers engaged in a game of fundraising one-upmanship that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the NRCC and GOP candidates.
Meanwhile, the NRCC will no doubt eye the $961,000 in campaign funds that McCrery showed in the bank at the end of September. He could transfer a portion or all of that total to the NRCC. McCrery has an additional $323,000 in PAC funds he could dole out to candidates.
Although he is retiring, McCrery is expected to remain active with the Challengers Helping Obtain the Majority Program. McCrery leads the fundraising effort along with Reps. Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Pete Sessions (Texas).