WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Wednesday prevailed in a competitive race against Rep. Tom Price for Republican conference chair, the fourth-highest leadership position in the House.
When the result was announced after ballots had been counted, McMorris Rodgers received a standing ovation from her colleagues, according to a source present during the closed-door election process.
The race was viewed among some House Republicans as a proxy for the balance of power between the party’s conservative and moderate contingents in the new Congress, with Price perceived as a champion of the former arm and McMorris Rodgers as a representative of the latter.
As she has waged her campaign, McMorris Rodgers, the early favorite to win the position, touted support from 15 committee chairmen, and she was boosted behind the scenes by Speaker John Boehner.
But the two committee chairmen supporting Price were powerful ones: Rep. Dave Camp, the chairman of the important Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, who heads the Budget Committee. Ryan nominated Price during the leadership election, with Camp seconding his motion.
McMorris Rodgers, meanwhile, was nominated by Rep. Tim Scott, of South Carolina.
The conventional wisdom on the Hill had held that McMorris Rodgers, boosted by the support of her party’s leadership, would be a frontrunner in the race for conference chair, if not a shoe-in.
But Price launched an unexpectedly vigorous bid for the slot, refusing an offer by Boehner of another, less prestigious position.
In recent days, as Price gained momentum and her bid was thrown into flux, McMorris Rodgers appealed to members of the Republican caucus as a woman, arguing that an all-male leadership would look particularly unbecoming after an election that saw Republicans struggling to appeal to women and minority voters.
In general, lawmakers try to avoid competitive contests for leadership positions in Congress by effectively resolving the election before any ballots are cast. Better to sort out the party’s leaders behind closed doors, the thinking goes, and prevent a messy, protracted, public scuffle for power.
On the Senate side of the Capitol on Wednesday, leadership elections were carried out just in that way: With little drama or suspense. Senate Democrats reelected their leadership slate, while Republicans chose Sen. John Cornyn as their new minority whip.
Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, will succeed Cornyn as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee after a weeks-long campaign for the slot. He will be joined by Sen.-elect Ted Cruz and Sen. Rob Portman, who will serve as NRSC vice-chairs; Portman will bring important fundraising clout to the position.