The Republicans' loss of power in the House after 12 years at the helm has set off a scramble for the party's top leadership positions in the upcoming Congress and a fight over the direction of the party.
Since Tuesday, a handful of Republican lawmakers have announced their intentions and reached out to their Republican colleagues with their prescriptions for moving the party forward. Rep. Peter King of Long Island said yesterday that he has decided whom he will back as House minority leader, while Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island said he has not chosen which Republican he will support in next week's party vote.
The wheels were set in motion on Wednesday when the current House speaker, Rep. Dennis Hastert, a Republican of Illinois, announced that he would not seek to become the House minority leader. Two Republicans have since thrown their hats into the ring for that position and another is weighing a run.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, now the House majority leader, said Wednesday that he wants the minority leader post. Mr. Boehner has only been majority leader since March, when he was chosen over the majority House whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, after Rep. Thomas Delay of Texas stepped down amid money-laundering allegations.
Mr. Boehner, who won a landslide victory on Tuesday, said in a letter to fellow Republicans on Wednesday that the party has lost its priorities in Congress.
"Our voters stopped thinking of us as the party of principle because we lost our commitment to, and confidence in, our core principles," Mr. Boehner said. Referencing the welfare reform and tax cuts Republicans launched after taking control of Congress in 1994, Mr. Boehner said he wants to lead the party "toward the common goal of a smaller, more accountable federal government that respects personal freedom and responsibility."
Mr. King, a Republican of Long Island, has thrown his support behind Mr. Boehner.
"I think John realizes that the party has to be more encompassing," Mr. King said yesterday. "I don't think we should be going further to the right."
Mr. King said Rep. Michael Pence of Indiana, who also has said he wants to become minority leader, "is too focused on spending issues" and "doesn't see the big picture."
In his own letter to House Republicans on Wednesday, Mr. Pence said the party needs to refocus.
"I am running for Republican leader because we didn't just lose our majority, I believe we lost our way," Mr. Pence said. "We are in the wilderness because we walked away from the limited government principles that minted the Republican Congress."
Another potential candidate, Rep. Joseph Barton of Texas, said in a statement that he is considering seeking the top post.
Jerome Climer, the president of a Republican-led lobbying organization, the Congressional Institute, said the expected shake-up of the Republican leadership could change the direction of the party.
"This will give the entire party conference the opportunity, in a somewhat messy and undisciplined way, to begin to make those decisions to what extent they choose leadership with a broader focus, or retrench and almost purify things," Mr. Climer said.
One leadership vacancy Mr. Climer will be watching closely is who becomes chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, which designs and executes policy ideas for the party.
Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida announced this week that he will not seek another term at the helm. Mr. Putnam is seeking to move up the party's leadership ladder with a bid for chairman of the House Republican Conference, which is responsible for communications among Republicans in the House. The current chairwoman, Rep. Deborah Pryce, who weathered a tough reelection challenge on Tuesday, is stepping down.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia are also seeking to replace Ms. Pryce.
Other leadership positions to be filled include the second highest-ranking post, minority whip, and the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The current chairman, Rep. Thomas Reynolds of central New York, was re-elected on Tuesday and has served two terms, which is the maximum allowed.
Mr. King, who will become the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee in January, said he is backing Mr. Blunt to become minority whip.
"He realizes it has to be a broad party," Mr. King said of Mr. Blunt, who is from Missouri. "I am saying this from the Northeast. We have lost four seats in New York. We can't just be a Southern and Western party."
Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona also has said he will seek to become minority whip.
Mr. Fossella, a Republican of Staten Island, said a number of his colleagues who are hoping to assume leadership posts have already reached out to him.
"Obviously, I've gotten a lot of calls, but I have not made a decision on anyone," Mr. Fossella said. "I want to hear where we need to go. The American people spoke. I want to know if the individual will get back to the basics."
The Democrats' takeover of the House and the expected realignment of the Republican leadership put the debate between the party's "conservative" and "moderate" wings out in the open.
A conservative strategist, Richard Viguerie, said the party of Barry Goldwater has lost its way and the current Republican leadership should be cleared out.
"Boehner. Blunt. Reynolds. They are all part of the problem," Mr. Viguerie said.
While the strategist did not name which Republicans he would like to step forward, he said he wants "younger, visionary conservatives that are not only worried about holding on to power."
Conservatives should sit back and let the Republicans do what they want to do, he said. "We got in close with Republicans and it didn't put us in good stead," Mr. Viguerie said."It has been a disastrous relationship."
Other Republicans, however, echoed Mr. King's comments and said they believe the party should move toward broadening its reach.
Sarah Chamberlain, the executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a caucus of moderate Republicans, said she hopes to see a "bigger tent party."
Defeats in the Senate of conservatives like Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania and Senator Allen of Virginia, in addition to victories in the House by centrist Democrats, demonstrate the importance of a party shift, Ms. Chamberlain said.
"If we go more conservative, we are going to lose more seats." she said.
Republicans will vote on the leadership positions next week.