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Boehner (left) and Cantor (AP/Photo by Susan Walsh)

Turning right

Politics | After a second round of Election Day losses, House Republicans look to the right to fill key leadership positions

WASHINGTON-The ghost of Ronald Reagan walks the halls of the House of Representatives, at least symbolically.

After back-to-back election losses in the House, which put the GOP 80 seats short of the Democrats, the party's comeback strategy is to turn back to conservative principles embodied by the likes of Reagan. Republicans had their leadership elections last week, selecting hard-line conservatives for two of their top three posts.

John Boehner, the GOP leader in the House, is not regarded as a staunch conservative and has consistently worked with Democrats on issues like the $700 billion bailout, drawing criticism from his colleagues farther to the right.

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Though the loss of House seats to the Democrats should have put his leadership in jeopardy, he held onto his post because of his knack for fundraising and his courtship of hardcore conservative members. Rep. Dan Lungren, Calif., mounted a token challenge to Boehner's leadership a few days before the leadership elections, but he didn't receive many votes.

Boehner didn't win the favor of one Republican, who is now No. 3 in the Republican House pecking order, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. Pence refused to endorse Boehner, hoping for a leader more committed to conservatism.

Republican members elected Pence to be conference chair, where he will head up the effort to articulate the party's message and keep members consistent to it.

"I will be loyal to the cause of returning our party to the ideals of Lincoln and Reagan," said Pence in his acceptance speech, "the ideals that most Republican voters embrace: defending our nation, our treasury, and our values with everything we've got."

Pence describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order."

Though a hard-nosed conservative, he won the backing of the GOP leader because he doesn't have the tone of the "angry, bitter minority," Boehner said.

Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan at one time quoted Pence as saying, "I'm conservative, but I'm not angry about it."

Pence was formerly the chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a group of 100 members committed to conservative principles: limited government, strong national defense, and family values. He has long been outspokenly pro-life. He opposed the $700 billion bailout, as well as the $25 billion package for the auto industry.

The man elected to the No. 2 GOP post, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, is also a member of the RSC and has a solid conservative voting record. As House minority whip, he will be the one to rally votes for the party. Cantor, who is Jewish, is uncompromising on policy towards Israel.

Though Cantor has aligned himself with staunch conservatives, he has said the party should be less interested in ideology as it is in solutions to the current economic problems.

"I am determined to help re-establish the forward momentum of common sense conservative solutions to the challenges facing the hardworking middle-class American taxpayers," he wrote in a letter to his colleagues.

The way forward, he said after his election, "is very heavy on reform."

Gaining the No. 2 position in the party after only eight years in office makes him one of the fastest rising stars in the House.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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