House Republicans hold their leadership elections Thursday, and while the top spots will almost certainly stay the same, there is one race that's actually a real contest: GOP Policy Committee chairman.
Tom Reed of New York, Rob Woodall of Georgia and Luke Messer of Indiana are all vying for the spot, which heads up the partisan committee that hands out policy research to Republicans. The position is being vacated by James Lankford of Oklahoma, who is headed to the Senate.
All three candidates have a real shot, according to members, but Woodall may be the slight front-runner — just by virtue of the fact he will draw heavy support from the conservative wing of the party. The happy-go-lucky Woodall served as interim chairman of the massive Republican Study Committee after Steve Scalise left that position to become majority whip in June.
Still, Messer and Reed are both respected members of the conference with sharp speaking skills and plenty of support. "Messer and Reed both are solid people," said Joe Barton, dean of the Texas delegation. "I think Rob would have a little bit of an advantage just because he was interim chairman of the Republican Study Committee. He was also the budget task-force chairman for the Republican Study Committee. But it's a tough choice because any of the three can do a good job."
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., told CQ Roll Call she would back Reed, even noting that she had "toyed with" the idea of running for the position herself until she found out Reed was running.
Black said Reed specifically wanted to give the Policy Committee a "stated purpose," and that he wanted the committee to be a clearing house for members of the conference to offer input on bills as they are being drafted — even if those bills are the jurisdiction of other congressional panels.
Reed himself told CQ Roll Call that his message was to ensure "under-utilized" resources of the Policy Committee were strengthened. "Because I think there's a real asset there," he said.
Reed also said he wanted to work with committee chairmen to communicate leadership's agenda, identify members with expertise in certain areas, and get them involved in crafting policy — "early rather than later" — making sure those members could be a resource for committees.
Reed's support seems to be concentrated with Republicans not accustomed to rocking the boat: Black, Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Tom Cole, R-Okla. But he also has the support of close personal friends like Marlin Stutzman, who is influential in some conservative circles and happens to be from Messer's home-state.
Messer declined substantive comment twice on Wednesday — once in the afternoon, and once after a candidates' forum Wednesday evening — simply telling CQ Roll Call both times that he was "very optimistic."
While members seem to genuinely respect Messer, his path to victory is complicated by his relatively new status in the conference. He is, after all, only a freshman.
But he could be helped by the fact that Reed and Woodall, who are both sophomores, potentially split the 2010 class vote. (Technically, Reed has seniority over his classmates because he was sworn in early.)
Either way, members seem to be struggling with who they will vote for.
"You got two guys from the sophomore class, and then you got a freshman from the heartland who's a good guy," said Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. "I mean, they're all great guys."
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