Skip to content

GOP Race Highlights Freshman-Vs.-Sophomore Dynamic

Updated: 10:19 p.m.

The race for House Republican Conference Vice Chairman showcases an interesting dynamic: Both candidates knocked off Democratic incumbents in swing districts and assure the Conference female representation in a party looking to head off any gender gap between the parties.

They also represent two different classes. Rep. Martha Roby (Ala.) came to Congress as part of the historic freshman class of 2010, while Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) did so two years earlier, in an election cycle far less hospitable for the GOP.

Jenkins, who defeated then-Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) in 2008, played down the numbers advantage of 2010’s 80-plus Member freshman class versus her class, which still has 20 Members in Congress.

“I have good support, even among the freshman class,” she said in an interview. “The freshman class is a third of our Conference, so I think it makes sense that there would be a number of them running for leadership.”

She said that the 113th Congress will be about big issues, especially tax reform, so it makes sense to have a member of the Ways and Means Committee, such as herself, in leadership.

Jenkins has already collected some big-name endorsements for the job from Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.), Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (Wash.) and Steering Committee member Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), as well as Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.) and freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.).

Roby, who unseated then-Rep. Bobby Bright (D) in 2010, isn’t publicly releasing her endorsements, but House Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, who also represents Alabama, said he is very impressed with the freshman, especially after he watched her outwork Bright in 2010.

“I told Martha I didn’t think she could beat Bobby Bright, and I’m glad I was wrong,” he said. “I think she’ll have a lot of support from her class, but I think she’ll also have a lot of support from the Conference.

“We wouldn’t be talking about vice chairman of the Republican majority [coming from] the freshman class had they not helped make us a majority in 2010,” he said.

Both lawmakers have ties to the campaign of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Roby is stumping for the candidate in swing states while Jenkins’ former spokesman now serves as the candidate’s Michigan communications director.

Both lawmakers said they are focused on the elections and will not start campaigning heavily for the leadership job before then.