Pence In; Others Out for Conference Chair

Posted November 6, 2008 at 3:58pm

Updated: 5:29 p.m.

Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) formally announced his run for Republican Conference chairman Thursday with the endorsements of two others previously interested in the post after House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) intervened on his behalf.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), formerly in the hunt for the No. 3 job themselves, are among those now in Pence’s camp. Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio.) also jumped aboard the Indiana Republican’s bid.

“If there’s one thing I constantly hear back home from Republicans it’s, ‘When are you guys going to start telling your story?’” LaTourette said in a statement. “From working with Mike Pence on the ‘Stolen Vote’ issue, I firmly believe he’s the guy that can message the Conference back to the Majority.”

Boehner also praised Pence, a former radio talk show host, as a gifted communicator and a team player, and Hensarling said that Pence was always his first choice for the job.

In a letter to colleagues Thursday, Pence acknowledged he hadn’t previously planned to seek a role in the Republican hierarchy, but said that, “after receiving encouragement from many colleagues in the Republican Study Committee and members of our current leadership team, I decided to offer my name for consideration.”

But some GOP insiders say Pence’s decision to run for the Conference job was the result of strong-arming behind the scenes by Boehner.

One source suggested Pence had no interest in running until this week when Boehner called Pence and urged him to jump in. Hensarling had been eyeing the job for weeks and had counted the support of nearly one-third of the Conference, and had only opted to run because Pence had seemed disinterested, the source said.

The situation changed, however, with Boehner’s call and a suggestion from the Minority Leader that he may endorse the Indiana Republican.

The source speculated that Boehner wants Pence in the post because they have “comfortable relations” after having worked closely together on numerous projects.

Boehner is running for another two-year term as Minority Leader, and in recent weeks has been trying to shore up support within the Conference to keep him. Those efforts came as Republicans were predicting major losses in Tuesday’s elections.

Some Republicans have suggested that in recruiting Pence, Boehner was looking to secure his own position — making sure the No. 2 and No. 3 GOP leaders are not aligned.

Hensarling and Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), who is running to be the next Minority Whip, are “extremely close,” said the source. Keeping Cantor and Hensarling from being in leadership together gives Boehner “some breathing room” and prevents a scenario where “the No. 2 and No. 3 are running the show,” the source said.

Plus, when the leader calls to encourage you to run, it is difficult to pass up, the GOP insider said.

“When all of a sudden you wake up to Boehner saying, ‘Oh, well I’ll back you,’ and you have no competition for the seat, it becomes a lot easier to put your neck on the line,” the source said.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel confirmed that Boehner called Pence this week and told him “he thought he’d do a great job.” But Steel declined to comment on why Boehner endorsed Pence instead of Hensarling.

In a statement, Boehner praised Pence’s candidacy, saying:

“I’ve encouraged Mike to run for the job of Conference chairman because there is no one in our ranks who does a better job of articulating the GOP message of freedom and smaller government, and he’s also proven himself to be a team player with the ability to bring our members together.”

Even with the allegations of Boehner’s strong-arm tactics, Hensarling spokesman Brad Dayspring said his boss doesn’t believe the Minority Leader slighted him. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Congressman Hensarling believes that it’s extremely important to have a conservative in the role of Conference chairman, and he believes Mike Pence will do an excellent job.”

In a statement, Hensarling said Pence “was always my first choice for this position,” and “pending his final decision, I was prepared to run for Conference chair should he have chosen not to.”