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Battle for Power Looms in GOP          10/21 10:33

   Win or lose in the race for the majority, House Republicans are at risk of 
plunging into a messy leadership battle after the November election, with the 
party lacking a clear heir apparent to take the place of House Speaker Paul 
Ryan.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Win or lose in the race for the majority, House 
Republicans are at risk of plunging into a messy leadership battle after the 
November election, with the party lacking a clear heir apparent to take the 
place of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

   President Donald Trump has signaled he'd be happy with next-in-line Kevin 
McCarthy, the majority leader, a longtime ally whom the president calls "My 
Kevin."

   But Trump is also saying kind words about the No. 3 Republican, GOP Whip 
Steve Scalise, whom he calls the "legend from Louisiana." Scalise survived 
life-threatening injuries after he was shot at a congressional baseball 
practice in 2017.

   And there's a third lawmaker in the mix: conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of 
Ohio, who is waging a longshot bid to take the gavel. Trump appeared with 
Jordan at an Ohio rally in the summer and beamed when the crowd started 
chanting, "Speaker of the House!"

   "There's going to be a contest, for sure," said GOP Rep. Tom Cole of 
Oklahoma, a veteran of leadership battles who said he's never seen anything 
like the "high drama" that's about to unfold. "Usually the election settles all 
the issues. This one won't."

   Polls are seesawing in the final weeks before the election, creating 
suspense about whether Democrats will regain control of the House for the first 
time since 2010. Yet it's almost certain that the often unruly House GOP 
contingent will be smaller next year. Republicans hope to hold the majority, 
but fully expect to lose some seats.

   The election is likely to produce a more conservative, pro-Trump Republican 
lineup in the House, as most of the GOP incumbents at risk of losing hail from 
moderate-leaning districts and suburbs. Their defeat would probably concentrate 
more power in the hands of the House Freedom Caucus and its libertarian-leaning 
allies in rural, traditionally Republican states who doubt McCarthy's 
conservative bona fides. Those lawmakers blocked the Californian's rise when he 
first reached for the speaker's gavel three years ago.

   Conservatives say the House majority is at risk in large part because 
Republicans didn't stand fully behind Trump. They fault their own side for 
failing to repeal "Obamacare," build a wall along the border with Mexico and 
keep other campaign promises. If there's a GOP wipeout on Election Day, 
Republicans will probably be eager to boot the current GOP leadership, which 
could give rise to Scalise or even Jordan's unorthodox bid.

   In public, none of the leaders-in-waiting likes to talk about the struggle 
to come. Their goal, they say, is to keep the House majority. But behind the 
scenes all three are all dialing up colleagues and racing around the country 
spending their time --- and campaign cash --- to salvage the GOP's hold on the 
House.

   "It's going to be close, but I still think we keep the majority," McCarthy 
told The Associated Press on Wednesday in between campaign stops.

   McCarthy, who has traveled to a dozen states for two dozen lawmakers and 
shoveled $24 million to candidates and campaign committees, convened an 
all-hands-on-deck conference call, urging colleagues to put campaign money into 
a team effort to protect the majority.

   The upbeat mood after that call Wednesday was a turnaround from the gloom of 
a few weeks ago when polls indicated Democrats were favored to take over the 
House, with even safe seats in Trump-won districts in Pennsylvania and Iowa at 
risk. Republicans are sensing an uptick, thanks to Brett Kavanaugh's 
confirmation to the Supreme Court, and a newly energized electorate awakened to 
the stakes of the midterm. As McCarthy puts it, "This is an election about jobs 
versus the mobs."

   Scalise technically isn't even running for a promotion --- officially, he 
backs McCarthy for speaker --- but he's indicated he would be available to step 
in if McCarthy falls short.

   While boarding a plane after campaigning in Michigan, Scalise said that 
while the GOP ranks may be smaller and tighter after the election, the outcome 
"brings everybody closer." He was dashing off to support the GOP candidate in 
an open seat in South Carolina. Rather than embolden challenges to the 
leadership, the election could knit the House GOP closer together behind 
Trump's agenda, he said.

   "Everybody needs to be all in," Scalise told AP. "We're not fighting to keep 
this majority to be at odds with each other. We want to get some things done."

   As the majority whip these past few years, he said, "my job has been to 
build those coalitions."

   Perhaps most unusual has been Jordan's longshot bid. Taking a page from 
Trump's playbook, Jordan has eschewed the normal path, opting for an outside 
campaign that's drumming up support from conservative groups and media-friendly 
allies.

   Jordan is a regular on Fox News, pushing the House GOP's investigation of 
the Justice Department's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 
Alongside Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus who is 
also campaigning for colleagues, he is positioning the group for influence in 
the House.

   None of the top three is without baggage. Jordan faces accusations that he 
didn't do enough as a young assistant Ohio State University wrestling coach to 
halt alleged sexual misconduct by the team doctor. Jordan forcefully denies 
those accusations. Scalise has had to answer questions about his appearance 
years ago before a community group with ties to former Ku Klux Klan leader 
David Duke.

   To be sure, Democrats have their own struggles. House Minority Leader Nancy 
Pelosi wants to return as speaker if Democrats win a House majority; many in 
her party want new leadership.

   Republicans have been here before, in a chaotic period after conservatives 
forced John Boehner into early retirement in 2015, then denied McCarthy the 
votes to move into the top spot. Ryan was recruited to fill the leadership 
vacuum.

   To shore up his conservative flank, McCarthy has pivoted closer to 
conservatives and is championing their issues, including legislation to pay for 
Trump's $25 billion border wall.

   If Republicans retain the GOP majority, Cole said he would be hard pressed 
to see Republicans walking away from McCarthy after all he's doing to keep the 
party in power.

   But if Republicans lose big, especially in the late-breaking California 
races, McCarthy's clout could diminish. The population of suburban Orange 
County, a longtime GOP stronghold, is shifting like the rest of the state.

   "They said it was impossible for the House Freedom Caucus to oust Boehner," 
said Noah Wall, a vice president at FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy 
group that is rallying for Jordan. "We don't claim there's anything but a 
longshot, but we see several paths."


(KA)

 
 
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