Price loses House Republican leadership bid

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state won a closed-door vote of her colleagues to become chairwoman of the Republican Conference and the only woman in the upper echelon of GOP leadership. Her victory was a sign of strength for the establishment members of the House and for Speaker John Boehner, who was seen as more supportive of McMorris Rodgers despite remaining publicly neutral.

Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy were not challenged and will remain in their posts for the next Congress.

Price, who just handily won a fifth term in Congress, is one of its most conservative members and an occasional thorn in leaders’ side. He attempted to rally the House’s right wing, with support from star Budget chairman and former vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. But McMorris Rodgers is popular with her caucus, and her elevation is a powerful symbol, particularly after the “gender gap” wounded the GOP in the voting booth this year.

“I congratulate Cathy McMorris Rodgers on being elected to serve as our next House Republican Conference Chairman,” Price said in a statement. “With so many challenges and opportunities facing our nation today, it is critical that Republicans come together to advance positive solutions that empower the American people, not government. I look forward to working with our entire Conference in the days and months ahead to help get our nation back on a path to prosperity.”

With his path blocked to rise in the House, speculation will only intensify about Price mounting a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is up for re-election in 2014.

Marietta Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey said Price immediately took the microphone after the result was announced at a GOP caucus meeting and praised McMorris Rodgers. Gingrey said he was surprised and disappointed Price lost, since he has always prevailed in such races, going back to his time in the Georgia state Senate.

“He’s not the kind of guy that kind of takes his marbles and goes home,” Gingrey said. “He won’t do that. He will be right in there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him seek another opportunity sooner rather than later to run for something else. Tom’s young and he’s healthy and he’s a friend, and I’ll be right there to help him all the way.”

Another Georgian seeking a prominent post, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger, faces a vote Thursday. Graves, just elected to his second full term, is seeking to lead the conservative Republican Study Committee. He faces Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise in another contest between the arch-conservative wing of the caucus and its more moderate members.

Graves has a more conservative voting record than Scalise, who has said he wants to use the group to work more with the party leadership. In recent years, RSC chairmen — a group that includes Price — have waged open battles with the leadership in an attempt to pull the caucus to the right. The group’s revolt during last year’s debate on raising the federal borrowing limit was a major impediment to a “grand bargain” between Boehner and President Barack Obama that would have included an increase in tax revenue.

The past leaders of the group have endorsed Graves, which is seen as giving him an edge, but Thursday’s outcome remains uncertain.

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