Conservative Michele Bachmann vs. Conservative Jeb Hensarling in Battle for Republican Leadership Post

By Fred Lucas | November 7, 2010 | 5:16 PM EST

Rep. Michele Bachmann accepts the “Tax Fighter Award” from the National Tax Limitation Committee on September 23, 2010 for her vote record in the 111th Congress against tax increases and for tax reform. (Photo: Michele Bachmann Web site)

( – Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has the support of many Tea Party supporters for a Republican leadership post, but most leaders of the newly-elected House majority are backing conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Bachmann and Hensarling appear headed for a showdown over the number four spot in the Republican leadership – that of chairman of the House Republican Conference. The position is being vacated by another Tea Party favorite, Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), who has endorsed the Texan.

“Jeb Hensarling is not only one of my dearest friends, he is one of the most principled conservatives in Congress,” Pence said in a statement.

“Jeb Hensarling has shown the courage of his conservative convictions throughout his career in Congress,” Pence continued.

“During his years as chairman of the House conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee, Jeb Hensarling demonstrated his willingness to challenge Republican leaders and members to embrace a vision for limited government, fiscal discipline and traditional moral values. I heartily endorse Jeb Hensarling for House Republican Conference chairman.”

Still, Bachmann, who is perhaps the more recognizable figure of the two due to frequent TV appearances, will be rolling out some endorsements next week, according to her spokesman, Sergio Gor.

Iowa conservative Rep. Steve King has announced his support for Bachmann, saying she “embodies the agenda of the constitutional conservatives.”

“We need a conference chair with her style,” King said. “Michele is intellectually brilliant, a very quick study, and philosophically sound. She has a high national profile and has boldly overcome every obstacle put in her path.”

“Just two years ago, Chris Matthews launched a viral attack on Bachmann and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi flew to Minnesota with a million dollars to use against her,” King recalled.

“Bachmann took on that challenge and today teases Chris Matthews about the ‘tingle down his leg’ as Pelosi cleans out her desk,” he said. “With this reminder of Michele’s strengths and communication style, I strongly encourage you to support Michele Bachmann as the next chair of the House Republican Conference.”

Both candidates for the post have strong conservative voting records, according to conservative organizations that rank members of Congress.

Hensarling was elected in a predominantly Republican state in 2002, a good year for the GOP. Bachmann, on the other hand, was elected in a marginally Democrat-leaning state in a heavily Democratic year, 2006.

Both voted against the 2008 $700 billion Wall Street bailout. President George W. Bush’s Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was supported by Republican leadership in Congress, but opposed by many conservative members.

Republican lawmakers will formally vote for their leadership team in January 2011 when the 112th Congress convenes.

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has not weighed in on the leadership contest. Current Republican whip and incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) is supporting Hensarling.

“Over the last few years, there are few who have done as much for the Republican team as Jeb [Hensarling],” said Cantor. “His principled approach to limited government is unquestioned; he has shown a tireless commitment to building a new Republican majority; and he is an extremely effective communicator on the issues that are most important to Americans--jobs, the economy and unsustainable federal spending.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling reading the Democrats’ health care reform bill, on November 3. 2009. (Photo: Jeb Hensarling Web site/Flikr)

In an email to journalists seeking to dispel the notion that Hensarling was only an establishment candidate, his office pointed out that Tea Party leader and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has endorsed him for the post.

“I think we’ve got a really good leadership team and quite frankly, I was surprised to hear you characterize Jeb Hensarling as an establishment guy,” Armey said in the statement.

“This is a candidate that gave opposition in deeply analytical terms to TARP and to the banking reform bill,” he noted. “He’s got a very bright mind and the reason he was on the TARP Commission, was he was the best voice in opposition to it.  So, the fact is, this is not an insider. This is not an establishment guy. He’s a very bright and able person.”

Voting against the bailout in September 2008, Bachmann said there was universal agreement the plan was a bad idea.

“I support a plan that would have Wall Street bail itself out, not hardworking taxpayers, by requiring institutions to insure troublesome assets that are causing today’s credit crunch,” Bachmann said at the time.

Close race

Both candidates have high ratings from conservative organizations.

Hensarling voted 100 percent of the time with the interests of the American Conservative Union in 2009, the same rating earned by Bachmann.

Hensarling has an 89 percent composite conservative rating in the assessment carried out by the National Journal, and a 12 composite liberal score.

National Journal reports he voted more conservative on economic issues than 96 percent of the House and more conservative on social issues than 93 percent of the House. He voted more conservative than 68 percent of the House on foreign policy.

Bachmann does marginally better with conservative votes, according to National Journal, with a 90 percent composite conservative rating and 10 percent liberal composite rating. She has voted more conservative than 92 percent of her colleagues on economic policy, more conservative than 89 percent of colleagues on social policy and more conservative than 75 percent of other House members on foreign policy.

Both get a 0 rating from Americans for Democratic Action for 2009.

The National Right to Life Committee gave both a 100 percent rating for 2010, while NARAL Pro-Choice America gave both a score of 0.

The Family Research Council, a social conservative group that advocates socially conservative policies, such as pro-life policies and opposition to same-sex marriage, gave both Bachmann and Hensarling a score of 100.

Taxpayer advocacy groups also give the two high marks as well. The National Taxpayers Union gave Bachmann an 89 percent rating for 2009. Hensarling upped her by a few points with a 95 percent NTU rating for 2009.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a taxpayer watchdog group focusing on earmarks and other wasteful spending issues, gave Hensarling a 100 percent rating for 2009 (96 percent lifetime rating), slightly surpassing Bachmann’s 99 percent rating (and a 91 percent lifetime rating) with the group that same year.

Evaluated in 2009 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest pro-business lobby. Bachmann scored 81 percent and Hensarling 83 percent.

Both received A-ratings from the Gun Owners of America in its 2010 candidates’ rating guide.

Although the House in the 111th Congress “almost entirely avoided the issue of immigration,” according to the pro-border enforcement group Federation for American Immigration Reform, it did rate lawmakers for their votes on two immigration-related measures. Bachmann and Hensarling both earned a positive rating.

And on national security issues for 2009-2010, Hensarling earned a 100 percent rating from the Center for Security Policy, a defense and national security think tank, while Bachmann received 87 percent.