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In GOP Leadership Races, Women and Freshmen Step Forward

The House Republican Conference might have more women in its upper ranks than ever next year, and several members of the freshman class are seeking to raise their profiles, but not before a slate of contested races decides the leadership landscape.

At this point, the top three leaders of the party are safe bets. Barring electoral catastrophe, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) will again head the GOP’s House leadership next year.

But the potential exists for women to occupy the next three spots – the Conference’s chairman, vice chairman and secretary – as the female vote is increasingly a deciding force in elections.

The influence of the 112th Congress’ freshman class will also continue to be felt next year. Freshmen are in the hunt for the Conference vice chairman and secretary roles, as well as the Republican Policy Committee chairmanship.

Headlining the competitive races is the contest to be Conference chairman: Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) are locked in a tight race as they rack up support to replace outgoing Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas).

Of those Members who have publicly declared their support, McMorris Rodgers has earned more centrist GOP endorsements, with current and former Tuesday Group leaders such as Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.) in her corner.

Price, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has the backing of that group’s current chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), and Hensarling, who chaired the group before Price.

Price has other high-profile backers, including Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.) and the party’s vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), who chairs the Budget Committee. Price’s office confirmed that Reps. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and Nan Hayworth (N.Y.) are also supporting him.

McMorris Rodgers has a spate of Members rounding up support for her, including Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (N.Y.); veteran Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.), Kay Granger (Texas), Ed Royce (Calif.) and Patrick Tiberi (Ohio); and freshman Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Tim Griffin (Ark.) and Tim Scott (S.C.).

Griffin, who has long been a McMorris Rodgers booster, said that a big part of her appeal is having a woman in the top conference slot, but that she has earned it in her own right by being a good communicator and expanding the Conference’s use of social media.

“She juggles a lot of different responsibilities outside of Congress, and I think that is very helpful to her in enriching her perspective,” he said, adding that she is the mother of two young children, one of whom has special needs.

Price has kept his campaign and its supporters out of the public eye, stating on numerous occasions that he prefers not to run the race in the press.

“Right now, what’s most important is talking about our positive solutions and getting our team across the finish line in November. These types of decisions by the Conference are not worked out in the press; they’ll be made after discussions and consultation with members,” he said in an emailed statement.

GOP leadership aides noted that Price has earned serious consideration for the post by revitalizing the Republican Policy Committee after ex-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s (Mich.) tenure as its chairman.

As a doctor, Price has been at the forefront of the GOP’s messaging on health care issues and represented the RSC push for lower spending levels from his slot on the Budget Committee.

“It’s going to be competitive,” one GOP Member said, noting that the vote count is likely to remain very close.

Down the ballot, Reps. Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) and Martha Roby (Ala.) are running a quiet race to be vice chairwoman of the conference, with GOP aides speculating that Roby has the edge only by virtue of the size of her freshman class.

Roby said she is focusing on the elections and stumping for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in swing states.

“It’s an honor to be encouraged by my colleagues to pursue a leadership role, and the response has been heartening. But right now we’re all focused on November, doing our part to elect more Republicans to Congress and send Mitt Romney to the White House,” she said in an emailed statement.

Jenkins’ office did not return multiple requests for comment.

Freshman Rep. James Lankford (Okla.) looks to be a shoo-in to head the Republican Policy Committee, as no one has yet stepped forward to challenge him. Multiple aides said he has been making phone calls to Members to shore up the post, but his office has yet to confirm his candidacy.

The only three-way race is for Conference secretary. Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Gregg Harper (Miss.) and Jeff Denham (Calif.) are facing off to occupy the lowest rung on the leadership ladder.

Foxx, who has sent a letter to her colleagues asking for their support, said she jumped into the race when Ryan asked her to run in July.

“I have always felt that it’s very important to have women at the leadership table, and I have voiced that concern in the past,” Foxx said in an interview. “I am not known for being shy and retiring. I don’t speak up often, I will say that, at Conference. But I am told that when I do speak up, people listen very carefully to what I have to say.”

In an interview, Harper said he is focusing on face-to-face campaigning and noted that he has been his class’ representative on the Republican Steering Committee for two terms and has paid his dues as Boehner appointed him to the House Administration and Ethics committees.

“You want to make sure you do the servant stuff that you have to do,” he said. “You always look to see who’s doing the team stuff, and that’s an important part of it for me.”

Harper is being boosted by his fellow sophomores Reps. Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.) and his home-state colleague freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Miss.), their offices confirmed.

Denham, a freshman, is the only Member in a competitive race who is also running for a leadership slot, a fact that GOP aides said could leave him with less time to campaign for the Conference position. Roll Call rates his race as Leans Republican, as he faces off against former astronaut Jose Hernandez (D) in November.

Denham’s office declined to comment.